Cloned animals - would you eat them?
In Europe, cloned animals haven't made their way into the food supply chain - yet - but they're not banned from it either. EU legislation on cloning is proving a hard nut to crack.
Hi, what would you like? -Two steaks, please.
We all love a good steak, but what if it came from cloned animals? Would you still eat it? Well, you don't need to answer right now, although 58% of Europeans surveyed said it didn't really tickle their fancy. But cloning is used for race horses and for science. So what's it all about? Time to take a closer look. Cloning is reproducing an individual without fertilisation. For agribusiness, the main objective of cloning is to reproduce high-quality animals that have been genetically selected to produce significant amounts of milk or to produce meat with specific characteristics.
So it’s nothing to do with genetically modified organisms or GMOs where the genome is modified with the insertion of one or more genes, changing its genetic make-up.
Cloned animals come under novel foods so if Member States were to allow them, technically, we could eat them, but so far, no-one has. In 2008, the novel foods directive was put under review. The Parliament wanted a complete ban on clones, their embryos and their offspring, but after three years, the negotiations broke down.
At this cow breeding farm in Belgium every cow is unique, because they're not cloned. But is that really what farmers want? In terms of nature, and of ethics, I don't think the animals need that. I really fear genetic standardisation. The advantage of having heterogeneous individuals is that the animals are more resistant and we can avoid some of the risks.
The welfare of the animal is the primary concern here in Europe. But what about food safety? The European Food Safety Authority says there's no difference between traditional food and food from cloned animals. Still, it creates malformations in a number of animals, and as for the mother cow, in the case of breeding, the calf usually has to be born by C-section. In 2014, cloning was put back on the table, but this time it was separated from novel foods.
But the three negotiators - the Commission, Parliament and Member States - are at loggerheads and can't find a common position.
Tracing and labelling could be a solution, but it's seen as too cumbersome and costly. It could damage trade between the EU and third countries that do not differentiate foods on the basis of animal origin - i.e. if the animal is bred traditionally or cloned. Until new rules on cloning can be clarified, the 1997 law on novel foods remains the precedent, but it doesn't prohibit cloning or for the offspring of cloned animals to be placed on the European market.
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