Despite on all-night session March 28 spent wrangling over the contentious issue of food from cloned animals and their offspring in the European Union marketplace, it was a “no-go” for a compromise.
The goal had been to come up with an agreement that could be used to update the EU’s Novel Foods Regulation, which was crafted in 1997 before technologies such as cloning and nanotechnology emerged on the scene.
The stalemate means that the rules on cloning and novel foods will have to be redrafted — a process that could take several years.
A clone is the duplicate of the original animal it was cloned from. An example would be creating an identical version of a superior beef or milk cow. Texas-based ViaGen describes the animal that has been cloned and the clone of that animal as “identical twins separated by time.”
The offspring of clones are produced by natural or accepted reproduction methods such as artificial insemination or embryo transplant.
The sticking point in the EU talks came down to the labeling of all food from clone offspring. A statement from the EU Council said doing that would not be feasible.
“The Council does not want to mislead consumers by agreeing to rules that cannot be enforced,” the council said in a statement after the talks broke down.
In an earlier interview with Food Safety News, Blake Russell, CEO of U.S. cloning company ViaGen in Austin, Texas, said that there’s currently no test to determine if an animal is produced using cloning technology, or if the animal is the progeny or offspring of an animal produced using cloning technology. Likewise, there’s no test to determine if an animal is produced using artificial insemination, is the result of embryo transfer or in vitro fertilization, or even if it was produced through natural mating.
On the international trade front, some EU states expressed fears that mandatory labeling could lead the 27-nation bloc into a trade war with the United States and other countries that export food from the offspring of clones.
The European Parliament lamented the collapsed talks.
“It is deeply frustrating that Council would not listen to public opinion and support urgently needed measures to protect consumer and animal welfare interests,” said chair of the European Parliament delegation Gianni Pittella and Parliament’s Novel Foods rapporteur (a person who prepares reports on a topic) Kartika Liotard in a joint statement.
“We made a huge effort to compromise but we were not willing to betray consumers on their right to know whether food comes from animals bred using clones,” said the statement, referring to Parliament’s original stand that overwhelmingly called for a ban on food from cloned animals and their offspring.
Pointing out that European public opinion is overwhelmingly against cloning for food, Pittella and Liotard said that “a commitment to label all food products from cloned offspring is a bare minimum.”
According to a Eurobarometer opinion poll, a majority of EU citizens, while having an understanding of the concept of animal cloning, had a broadly negative perception of its use for food production.
According to the same poll, many of those surveyed were concerned about the lack of information about the long-term consequences of cloning. Many also cited ethical concerns.
In their joint statement, Pittella and Liotard said that measures regarding clone offspring are “absolutely critical because clones are commercially viable only for breeding, not directly for food production. No farmer would spend €100,000 on a cloned bull, only to turn it into hamburgers.”
Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety told Food Safety News that he applauds the European Parliament for not “over-compromising” on this issue.
He said that although the European Parliament tried to compromise by conceding a major change in its position — allowing the sale of foods from the offspring of cloned animals as long as they’re labeled — the opposing side continued to insist that cloned offspring not be labeled.
“Tracking clones and their offspring is as simple as requiring pedigrees for sales of clones, their offspring, and for sales of eggs and sperm,” Hanson said. “This is no more complicated than tracking most food stuffs. Animal breeders have been doing it for centuries for highly valued animals such as these.”
In an email to Food Safety News, Veterinarian Don Coover, president of Kansas-based SEK Genetics said that it appears to him that the EU may end up trying to regulate something they can’t even detect in the food supply.
Because all of the available science agrees that the offspring of clones and their products do not differ from conventionally produced products, to try to regulate foods that may contain products from the offspring of clones seems to me to be an exercise in regulation only.
Coover said that if consumers want to buy a safe product that does, or does not, contain products that are the result of cloning technology — or any other technology — “I am sure they should be allowed to.”
Nevertheless, he said he doubts that governments need to be regulating what is proven safe and is not detectable, anyway.
Exasperated, he said: “They’re trying to regulate someone’s opinion.”
On the food-safety front, cloning opponents warn that not enough is known about the technology and its effects on the animals — or about the composition of the meat and milk — from clones and their offspring.
In contrast, the FDA says that food from cloned animals and their offspring (other than sheep) is safe to eat.
Although the United States currently has a voluntary moratorium on the marketing of food from clones, there is no such moratorium on food from the offspring of clones.