The European Union imports 500,000 tonnes of beef every year, largely from countries where cloning is authorised. But lawmakers want to stop clones from ending up on European plates. EurActiv France reports.
The European Parliament has confirmed its strict opposition to the production or importing of food from cloned animals or their descendants.
In its legislative proposal from 2013, the European executive had moved to ban the importing of cloned animals and the consumption food products from these animals, but not from their descendants, a compromise that was roundly rejected by MEPs.
The institutions are poised for heated negotiations, after a large majority of MEPs (529 for to 120 against) voted to adopt the report by Italian MEP Giuila Moi (EFDD group) and German MEP Renate Sommer (EPP group).
Citing animal welfare concerns, scientific uncertainty linked to the consumption of cloned meat products and widespread public opposition among European consumers, the MEPs are determined to stand their ground against the EU executive.
“This was a head-on collision between the Commission and the Parliament. How will we end this confrontation, when the Commission has done nothing constructive to move past this blockage since their failure in 2011?” the Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries (ALDE) asked during the debate.
After a failed attempt in 2011, this is the Commission’s second effort to revise the regulations on novel foods, which date back to 1997, the year after the cloning of Dolly the sheep.
For now, the barriers to progress appear insurmountable.
While members of the European Parliament are broadly opposed to the sale of meat, eggs or milk from cloned animals in Europe, the European Commission supports a more flexible approach, whereby these restrictions would not apply to the descendants of cloned animals.
The two institutions also clashed over MEPs’ demands for greater traceability for meat imported from outside the EU.
Romanian MEP Daniel Buda (EPP), said, “We need to put in place import certificates that guarantee the animals imported are not clones or the descendants of clones.”
But Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis rejected this demand. “Traceability would be an extra burden that would push up the price of food,” he said.
Trade deals raise questions
Some MEPs believe international trade is behind the European Commission’s reluctance to enact a complete ban on cloned food products: simply banning imports of certain products that are legal in other countries, like Brazil or the United States, is a delicate issue.
“You at the Commission are scared that third countries will take the issue to the World Trade Organisation,” German rapporteur Renate Sommer said. She added that it was time for the Commission to change its “wrongheaded” position.
The trade negotiations currently under way with the United States are another lever of influence. Many MEPs believe Brussels is afraid of appearing too radical on the question of imports, before negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are completed.
“Some have mentioned TTIP: the transatlantic partnership has nothing to do with the Commission’s position on cloning!” the Health Commissioner said.
“Each year we import between 300,000 and 500,000 tonnes of bovine meat for consumption,” the Belgian Socialist MEPs Marc Tarabella said. “The majority of this comes from the United States and Argentina, Brazil or Australia, all of which are countries that have authorised cloning for commercial purposes,” he added.
The Parliament report adopted on 8 September aims to provide a framework for this situation. It calls for the implementation of measures to enable international trade agreements to recognise import bans for cloned meat.
The broad consensus on cloning in the European Parliament is a sign of difficulties to come in the negotiations between the Commission and the Council, where the positions of member states will be a deciding factor.
“It is time for each member state to explain its position on the question of cloning to its citizens,” Renate Sommer said.
Renate Sommer, an EPP group MEP and European Parliament rapporteur on Animal Cloning, said, "Cloning is torture for animals. The mortality rate is 90% and most cloned animals have deficiencies of various kinds. "Cloning is also about ethics and politicians need to set a limit. We cannot restrict legislation to cloning as such and imports of cloned animals. We must also ban any material stemming from cloned animals including the descendants of cloned animals.”
Paul Brannen, the UK Labour Party’s European agriculture spokesman on agriculture, said, "There are strong concerns over the welfare and conditions of cloned animals, and that is why we have voted for the EU ban on animal cloning. Labour MEPs believe animal welfare, food standards and biodiversity in our farming system will be protected, and we will continue to work for this."
Speaking after MEPs voted in Strasbourg in favour of the ban, UK Greens/EFA MEP Jill Evans said, "Cloning has no advantage for consumers, no beneficial impact on food safety or security. I am pleased that we have acted to ensure that food from cloned animals or their descendants does not enter the food chain.”
An EU proposal for a regulation on novel foods was rejected in 2011 over concerns related to animal cloning.
The discussions mainly focused on the provisions applicable to nanomaterials, the cloning of animals for food production, traditional foods from third countries, the criteria to be examined for the risk assessment and risk management, and to the procedure for the authorisation of novel foods.
A new proposal was tabled in December 2013, which is limited to the safety of novel foods and is based on the overall agreement achieved in so-called "conciliation" talks between the EU three lawmaking bodies - the European Commission, Parliament and Council.
The general criteria for novel food definition remain unchanged: novel foods are foods and food ingredients which were not consumed in the EU to a significant degree before the entry into force (15 May 1997) of the current Novel Food Regulation.
- 2016: Earliest possible date for bill to come into force.