Is European Distrust Towards Animal Cloning For Food Finally Lessening?     Print

European reluctance to allow cloned animals to be sold as food is well known – and indeed the practice is outlawed. But there are signs of cautious changes in these attitudes.

In June the European Union’s agricultural ministers took the step of announcing that the meat and milk of the offspring of cloned animals should be allowed into the European consumer market.

Meat from a cloned animal is still forbidden for human consumption because of potential health risks – both in the EU and the US. But cloned animals’ offspring are deemed normal meat.

Critics are in an uproar about the ministerial decision. In the Europe Ecology party in the European Parliament, José Bové has voiced concerns about potential health-risks, pointing out that cloned animals die early and often are born with severe health problems. Additionally, ethical advisors to the European Commission see no convincing arguments to justify the production of cloned meat, especially since cloning an animal still cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

But farmers contend that cloning enables them to improve their herds and output – of non-cloned offspring of cloned animals. The European Food Safety Authority claims that cloned cattle and pig meat is just as healthy as that of conventionally-bred animals. Proponents even argue that cloned “supercattle” will produce more milk and leaner meat, making investments in this new technology profitable.

The debate over cloning reflects an earlier argument between the European Union and the United States regarding the agricultural GMOs widely used in the U.S. but largely shunned in Europe. In 2008 the European Commission pushed back proposals to allow new genetically modified crops onto the European market, saying that additional scientific analysis of their effects on the environment and the human health was needed before they could be approved. Now the European environment ministers have recently allowed Austria and Hungary to maintain their ban on GM products, despite the Commission’s efforts to have them lifted.

Pressure to allow more GM crops to be cultivated in Europe is increasing. Supermarket chains, which play an important role in the debate, would like to sell GM food. It is much cheaper than the organic food they previously championed for its strong appeal to consumers. Now, observers say, global issues such as food supply and climate change may start to weigh on Europe’s view. Some analysts contend that Europe’s mistrust of GMOs has slowed down their adoption in areas of food shortage such as Africa.

Asked about this trans-Atlantic cultural difference, Willy de Greef, secretary-general of EuropaBio – which represents the European private sector in biotechnological research – said that Europe’s fear of GMOs and cloned food can be traced back to food-safety scandals in the 1980s in Europe in which, for example, mad cow disease and antifreeze in wine went undetected so long that they harmed many people.