Debate over cloned offspring meat
Meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals could be put on sale in British shops without labels to distinguish it from traditionally-produced foods, after ministers judged it would be "disproportionate" to impose restrictions, it has emerged.
The European Commission has proposed a temporary five-year ban on food and drink from clones, but papers released by the Food Standards Agency indicate that Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman believes this is unnecessary.
And an expert committee has advised the food watchdog that products from cloned cows and pigs and their descendants are no different from those from traditionally-bred animals, posing no additional risk to human health.
At present, the sale of meat and milk from clones and their offspring in the UK is subject to approval by the FSA, but the watchdog has so far received no applications. The FSA board will meet on Tuesday to decide whether the requirement should be dropped for products from the offspring of clones, allowing them to be sold like conventional food.
The board will also be asked whether they agree that "mandatory labelling of meat and milk obtained from the descendants of cloned animals would be unnecessary and disproportionate, providing no significant consumer benefit".
A document produced ahead of the meeting by director of food safety Alison Gleadle makes clear that ministers oppose the Commission's proposal for a five-year suspension of animal cloning for food production, the use of clones and the marketing of food from clones in the EU. "The Government recognises that cloning is a relatively new technique and that the welfare of clones and of their surrogate dams must be protected. However, existing EU legislation is considered sufficient to deal with welfare issues," wrote Ms Gleadle.
The FSA document said that scientific evidence was that milk and meat from the offspring of cloned cattle and pigs "represents no different risk to food safety to that which is from traditionally-bred animals". And it said that banning, or even monitoring, such products was unnecessary because there was no reason to believe they pose a risk to human health.
"It would be disproportionate to try to establish a monitoring process (whose purpose would be to ensure the safest possible food), where there is no discernible risk and with the knowledge that it would only be feasible for a very small proportion of the market," said Ms Gleadle's report.
The FSA board will consider an assessment conducted in November by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, which found that "the evidence showed no differences in composition between the meat and milk of conventional animals, clones or their progeny, which is therefore unlikely to present any food safety risk".
The committee found that any potential differences between conventional cattle and the offspring of a clone were "unlikely to exist from the second generation onwards". But it noted that "consumers may want to see effective labelling of products from clones and their offspring".