Talks on cloned cattle proposals collapse

Last-ditch talks to save proposals which would allow cloned cattle offspring to enter the food chain have collapsed.

All-night discussions broke down on Monday (28 March) after EU ministers failed to agree on how the food should be labelled and the European Council refused a compromise offer from the parliament to revamp rules on novel foods.

A review of the rules – including cloned animals and their offspring – was launched in 2008 in an effort to find ways for new foods to reach the EU market faster and to encourage the development of food production techniques.

Ministers had to come to an agreement before 30 March to save the proposal from being scrapped.

The parliament had previously called for an outright ban on cloned cattle and their offspring from entering the food chain.

But the council said such a move would force Europe to reject imports of beef and dairy products from countries such as the USA, provoking “retaliatory measures” on EU exports, which could cost millions of euros a year in lost trade.

In the last round of talks (21 March) MEPs had argued for a compromise on labelling, with all foods containing cloned cattle-derived products clearly marked. But the council said it would only agree to labelling of fresh beef.

A statement from the parliament said it was “deeply frustrated” that the council had failed to support measures which protected consumer and animal welfare and ignored public opinion.

A Eurobarometer survey had found just 15% of EU citizens support animal cloning for food.

“We made a huge effort to compromise but we were not willing to betray consumers on their right to know whether food comes from animals bred using clones,” the statement said.

“Since European public opinion is overwhelmingly against cloning for food, a commitment to label all food products from cloned offspring is a bare minimum.”

Health and Consumer Policy commissioner John Dalli said the collapse of the proposals – which would have benefitted consumers and food producers – was “disappointing”.

“I remain convinced that the only way to guarantee a good deal for EU consumers and food business operators is to deliver a proposal that is based on common sense and one that is both practicable and enforceable, including on the issue of labelling,” he said.

“I will reflect on the disappointing outcome in view of assessing the next steps, both with respect to the novel food regulation and the follow-up to the commission’s report published in October 2010 on the issue of cloning in food production.”

NFU Scotland said the talks’ failure would probably result in fresh novel foods rules being made next year, with separate proposals regarding clones.

“We welcome Commissioner Dalli’s statement to draft a regulation that is based on common sense and one that is both practicable and enforceable, including on the issue of labelling,” a spokesman said.

“Given scientific opinions on the complete safety of food produced from the offspring of clones – and any additional traceability measures on the offspring of clones being both unnecessary and unenforceable – the hope would be that no labelling requirements be forced onto food from such animals.

“The current labelling arrangement, which recognises that there are no differences between food from conventionally-bred animals and food from the offspring of clones, would appear to be adequate.”

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