EU cloning ban dispute turns to trade, consumers

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A ban on food products coming from the offspring of cloned animals would be compatible with WTO rules, argued a key lawmaker in the European Parliament, who accuses EU countries of scaremongering over a potential trade war with the US.

The EU novel foods regulation review stumbled in March over fears it might trigger a trade war over a ban on products coming from the offspring of cloned animals.

But the European Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier yesterday (11 May) quoted a document from the legal service of the EU Council of Ministers saying such a ban could actually be defensible under WTO rules, on the basis of consumers' ethical considerations.

"The bans of food from cloned animals and of food from offspring of clones could be justified on the basis of the consumers' ethical considerations," said Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard (European United Left/Nordic Green Left), who is responsible for steering the dossier through the Parliament.

Liotard is now "demanding answers" from the European Commission and EU governments as to why a ban cannot be enforced.

"If the WTO is not the problem, then what is?" and why did the Commission and the member states "constantly scare us with the false WTO argument?" she asked.

The leftist MEP also wondered whether member states were actually aware of the legal service's advisory note.

Asked by EURACTIV, the Hungarian EU Presidency confirmed that the document was in no way secret and had been on the table during the discussions.

Labelling

Addressing the Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, an official from the Hungarian Presidency noted that MEP Liotard merely quoted one sentence of the document, out of context, and "did not mention that according to the conclusions of the same document there are risks in terms or WTO compatibility".

The legal service document, obtained by EURACTIV, indeed concludes that banning food from the offspring of cloned animals "entails risks as far as their compatibility with the WTO rules is concerned" and that "a simple labelling requirement for this food" would be the most acceptable solution, considering international trade agreements.

In the Parliament plenary debate yesterday, several MEPs also accused the Commission and Council of defending the interests of the meat industry and asked them to "put consumers before markets".

The House is keen to position itself as a defender of consumer interest and has repeatedly accused the two other EU institutions of neglecting the opinion of the majority of Europeans, who surveys suggest oppose food from cloned animals.

The Hungarian Presidency official noted that "we would like to reject the allegations according to which the Council or the Hungarian Presidency has acted insincerely or was under the influence of any interest groups".

Food safety concerns

The legal service document also draws the Council's attention to the fact that the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has so far been "unable to perform a risk analysis for all animal species to which cloning is applied".

Therefore, "there is no scientific data whether food from those species and from their offspring is safe," the document reads.

European consumers' organisation BEUC and the Eurogroup for Animals, an NGO, said they were "bewildered" by the leaked Council document and its conclusion that "a labelling requirement for food from cloned animals and their offspring would be compatible with GATT rules".

"With this opinion of the Council's legal service on the compatibility of restrictions of food from offspring of cloned animals with WTO rules, it appears the threat of a trade war brandished during the negotiations between the European institutions was exaggerated," the two organisations said.

Sonja Van Tichelen, director of the Eurogroup for Animals and Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, also added that the argument of EU ministers and the Commission that food from cloned animals was safe to eat appeared "not to stand".

The EU's current Novel Foods Regulation dates back to May 1997. It does not cover foods developed since then that use nanotechnology, nor does it cover foods that are consumed outside the EU.

The European Commission adopted a legislative proposal to amend the current Novel Foods Regulation in January 2008.

Last-chance conciliation talks on a review of the EU's novel foods regulation failed in March this year after member states and European Parliament officials failed to agree on the use of cloned animals' offspring for food production.

The Parliament is calling for the explicit ban of meat produced from cloned animals and their descendants, whereas EU ministers and the Commission back a ban on cloning for food production, but reject a ban on food from their offspring.

Both the Council and the Commission argue that such a ban would be impossible to defend under WTO rules and would lead to direct retaliatory measures by third countries.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht warned the Parliament that a ban on the offspring of cloned cattle could spark a trade war between the EU and the rest of the world.

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