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Animal cloning and food products derived from cloned animals could be the stumbling block for agreement in the EU-US Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement.
In September this year, the European parliament beefed up the regulations over animal cloning.
While the European Commission had put forward proposals banning animal cloning, the parliament also included a ban on animals descended from clones and a ban on products derived from them.
This move, however, has put the EU in direct conflict with the US and other countries that accept cloning and products derived from cloned animals.
And as the vote in the European parliament was to enforce the laws as a regulation rather than a directive, it meant that the law would come into force without further votes and would be imposed on all 28 EU countries.
The conflict with the US over the issue then draws into question the success of the free trade agreement that is at present being negotiated.
Already, there is a sticking point over the continued ban on beef from the US that has been raised using hormone treatment and now this act by the European parliament places a similar obstacle in the way.
At the time of the debate and vote in the European Parliament, the environment committee co-rapporteur Renate Sommer from Germany said: “The technique of cloning is not fully mature, and in fact, no further progress has been made with it. The mortality rate remains equally high. Many of the animals which are born alive die in the first few weeks, and they die painfully. Should we allow that?”
She added: “Up to now, we have been able to import reproductive material from third countries. We are washing our hands letting others do the dirty work. We want to ban comprehensively. Not just the use of cloning techniques but the imports of reproductive material, clones and their descendants. Traceability is possible. There are pedigree books, breeding books, stock books available. I’d like to ask the European Commission to rethink this whole thing. Sometimes, politics have to set the limits,” said Ms Sommer.
The agriculture committee co-rapporteur, Giulia Moi from Italy said: “We need to take into account the impact on animal health, but also on human health.
“This reports sends the message to our trade partners that we are not willing to put our own health, our families’ health, and future generations’ health at stake using products of dubious quality of this nature,” she said.
“Our farmers are currently faced with major competitive pressure from Asia particularly, due to certain practices, including cloning. But Europe is based on values and that includes quality. We want to be sure that we don’t go down a path from which there is no return,” she added.
The European parliament’s move also dictated that imports into the EU should only be allowed if the import certificates show that animals are not animal clones or their descendants. The ban should also apply to imports of animal germinal products and food and feed of animal origin.
The European parliament was concerned about findings by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) from 2008 that the health and welfare of clones are adversely affected, often severely and with a fatal outcome.
The resulting low efficiency rates in cloning (six to 15 per cent for bovine and six per cent for porcine species) make it necessary to implant embryo clones into several dams to obtain one cloned animal. Furthermore, clone abnormalities and unusually large offspring result in difficult births and neonatal deaths.
The MEPs also said that consumer research indicated that a majority of EU citizens strongly oppose the consumption of food from animal clones or from their descendants and that a majority also disapprove of the use of cloning for farming purposes, on animal welfare and general ethical grounds.
The amended text converts the legal act into a regulation, which has to be applied directly in all member states, rather than a directive, which would require further national legislation.
The US position on cloning is to adopt a risk approach.
The Food and Drug Administration says: “In 2001, when it became apparent that animal cloning may become a commercial venture to help improve the quality of herds, FDA requested livestock producers and researchers to keep food from animal clones or their offspring out of the food supply. Since then, FDA has conducted an intensive evaluation that included examining the safety of food from these animals and the risk to animal health.
“Based on a final risk assessment, a report written by FDA scientists and issued in January 2008, FDA has concluded that meat and milk from cow, pig, and goat clones and the offspring of any animal clones are as safe as food we eat every day.”
However, a meeting of the World Trade Organisation Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade at the beginning of November has offered some ray of light for a solution – although it puts the EU trade negotiators at odds with the European parliament.
In the committee, the United States and Brazil said they considered that the proposed ban could be more trade restrictive than necessary, and questioned the supporting scientific evidence.
The EU, while providing an update on the ongoing decision-making process for the measure, did express its willingness to further discuss the matter.
As it stands, the measure is set to become a regulation and the trade negotiations set to fail.