31st March 2011
COALITION BLOCKS CONSUMERS' RIGHT TO KNOW ON CLONING IN THE FOOD CHAIN
The British government has blocked proposals to give consumers the right to know whether the meat and dairy products they buy have genetic links to cloned animals.
Through-the-night negotiations aiming to agree pan-EU rules on the subject ended in stalemate at 7am this morning. EU governments, including the British coalition, refused to agree to Euro-MPs' demands for the mandatory labelling of food derived from the offspring of cloned animals.
Stephen Hughes, Labour MEP for the North East believes that people should have a right to know whether their supermarket purchases are driving a practice that is widely recognised to have serious implications for animal welfare.
However, with the breakdown in talks, it now seems likely that cloning will remain in a legal grey area for a number of years to come.
At present cloning in the UK is used exclusively for research purposes, but rules do not exist around whether the technique can be used for food production. While the cost of cloning means that it is unlikely that food from cloned animals would enter the human food chain in the near future, we can expect meat and milk from the offspring of clones to become much more common.
Labour's Stephen Hughes, said: "Consumers want to know where the food they buy has come from - and whether animals have suffered unnecessarily to produce it. Just look at the example of battery hens, where tough EU labelling laws have helped consumers to understand whether the eggs they buy have been produced under decent animal welfare conditions.
"There has already been at least one outcry in Britain over meat that came from the offspring of a cloned animal entering the human food chain.
"I simply don't understand why the British government is leading the charge in trying to stop consumers from knowing whether the meat or milk they buy has come from an animal related to a clone."
Last September, there was a public outcry in the UK when it became clear that a Scottish farmer was using imported embryos from a US cloned bull to breed animals in the UK. Meat and milk from these animals were sold to the British public. The Food Standards Agency questioned the legality of selling meat and milk from the offspring of clones in the UK and they launched an inquiry to trace all of the animals affected.
Since coming to power the British coalition government has been a leading voice against any restrictions on the use of offspring of clones, claiming that there are "no animal welfare or food safety grounds for applying restrictions to immediate offspring or further descendants of cloned animals".
However, experts have expressed serious concerns about the animal welfare implications of cloning, with the EU's own ethics committee saying it did not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.
MEPs wanted consumers to be able to tell whether the meat and dairy products they buy had come from the offspring of cloned animals.
Stephen Hughes added: "MEPs wanted rules in place to ensure that consumers would be aware of whether their choice in the supermarket would mean implicitly supporting a practice that causes unnecessary suffering to animals. However, ministers refused to back down.
"We wanted labelling of all products from offspring to be phased in, starting immediately with fresh beef, but extended to other products over the next two years. Ministers rejected this, only conceding on the beef. Their proposal gave no guarantee about consumer choice and would have meant that in most cases, consumers would be none the wiser about whether or not the food they were eating came from cloned offspring."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Expert advice across the board has highlighted serious animal welfare issues with cloning: birthing problems, high mortality rates during pregnancy, poor survival rates after birth with about a third dying in the early weeks of life from a range of conditions. Recently, in New Zealand, unacceptable rates of death among cloned animals caused a leading national research institute to suspend their trials, as only 10% of animals survived. The EU's own ethical committee said that they did "not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring": http://ec.europa.eu/european_group_ethics/activities/docs/opinion23_en.pdf
A 2008 Eurobarometer survey found that over 81 per cent of UK citizens said they wanted meat from clones and their offspring to be labelled: