Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? With global challenges of poverty and scarcity, it’s hard to imagine governments thinking twice about embracing new sources of food supply. But that is exactly what is happening throughout the European Union (EU) this month with regard to farm animal cloning. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels is pushing for a ban on domestic animal cloning and any importation of cloned meat. EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg describes the proposed regulation as “a ban on the technique, a ban on imports of the cloned animals themselves and a ban on food, milk or meat from the cloned animals.”
What’s behind the ban?
The principal motivation behind the cloning ban is concerns about animal welfare and misgivings regarding the ethical dimensions of cloning itself. Farm animal cloning involves implanting genetic material into a female host, who then delivers the offspring. However, initial studies reveal that the surrogate mothers suffer from an increased number of miscarriages and difficult births, while the offspring often die from abnormalities. As the technology is still in its nascent stages, there is a lack of clinical research available to improve the health of either the host mother or the cloned offspring.
Another cause for concern revolves around standardized processes of food safety certification, which would require adaptation in order to accommodate the sale of cloned meat. The meat would need special labels to inform consumers of its origins – parentage labels that the Commission says would become increasingly complex, and would add expense to the process. However, the proposal makes room for cloning animals for the purpose of developing pharmaceutical and medical products, as well as to conserve rare breeds.
Currently, Denmark is the only country in the bloc with an established ban on animal cloning for commercial purposes. Several countries, including the United States and Canada have confirmed that animal cloning takes place within their borders. However, within the EU, no retailer has so far requested permission to sell food produced from cloned animals. In 2011, EU governments rejected a proposal to ban the selling of cloned meat, citing potentially negative responses from trading partners. European professionals in food safety training maintain that there is no difference between natural and cloned animal food products, and that genetically engineered animals pose no health threat to humans. Nonetheless, the Commission is seeking a temporary ban on cloned cows, pigs, sheep, goats and horse species.
It’s a pre-emptive measure that the Commission hopes will buy time in which to conduct more in-depth studies of cloned meat before it is introduced into the food supply.
Would you consider consuming meat from cloned sources?