The news that Scottish scientists had succeeded in cloning a sheep excited the world when it was first announced in 1997 as it offered possibilities to help preserve endangered species. However, it soon became clear that cloning raises some serious issues.
A key concern is animal welfare. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in a 2008 opinion that the health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones had been found to be adversely affected, often severely and with a fatal outcome. These effects contribute to cloning's low efficiency rates, of 6-15% for bovine and 6% for porcine species. In addition clone abnormalities and unusually large offspring result in difficult births and neonatal deaths.
For these reasons the European Commission has come up with a proposal to ban cloning for food in the EU.
In the EU food from clones currently needs pre-market approval based on a scientific food safety assessment by the EFSA before it can be put on the market. To date there has not been a single application and therefore authorisation has never been granted.
Proposal to ban cloning
The Commission's proposal to ban the cloning of farm animals is now before the European Parliament. A report with recommendations by MEPs Renate Sommer and Giulia Moi was adopted by the environment and agriculture committees on 17 June.
MEPs have beefed up the original proposal, by extending the ban's scope to cover all species of animals kept and reproduced for farming purposes (as opposed to only bovine, ovine, caprine and equine species, as proposed by the Commission). They also want to ban the import of animals from outside the EU unless the import certificate shows that they are not animal clones or their descendants.
Sommer pointed out that a large majority of consumers also reject cloning for farming purposes due to its impact on animal welfare. "Furthermore, we do not need cloning to ensure meat supplies in the EU," she said. "Prohibiting cloning is therefore a matter of European values and principles. Consequently, the ban should apply not only to clones themselves but also to their reproductive material (semen and embryos), their descendants and any products derived from them, including imports."
Moi added: "The ban on placing animal clones or their offspring on the EU market is a red line for us. We are well aware that cloning is allowed in certain third countries that EU trades with, but we cannot allow these products to be placed on the EU market. We also want to ensure that cloning of animals would not become a common practice within the EU."
The proposal must be approved by both Parliament and Council before it can enter into force. MEPs will vote on the proposal during the 7-9 September plenary session in Strasbourg.
Cloning would not banned for other purposes, such as research, the conservation of rare breeds and endangered species or for animals used in the production of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Thanks to Rachel Stelmach for making the photo available http://epfacebook.eu/j8rU.