A European Union panel yesterday said it had 'doubts' about the ethics of using cloning to improve farm livestock, because cloned animals and their surrogate mothers suffered more health problems than conventional animals.
The European Group on Ethics of science and new technologies (EGE) 'does not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring', it concluded after an investigation.
The EGE report comes less than a week after the European Food and Safety Agency said there were no scientific reasons to ban meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring. These were indistinguishable from food derived from cattle and pigs bred normally, said the EFAS.
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the consumption of food from cloned animals and their offspring. In practice the clones themselves are unlikely to enter the food chain, because they are too valuable for breeding, but their descendents will be eaten if US livestock cloning companies such as ViaGen, Trans Ova and Cyagra succeed in commercialising the technology.
The negative findings of the European ethics group do not directly contradict those of the FDA and the EFSA, because the EGE was looking at moral and ethical aspects of cloning, rather than scientific and food safety issues. The EGE said if food derived from cloned livestock were introduced to the European market, there should be new requirements to guarantee the animals' welfare and health.
It added that products from the offspring of cloned animals should be labelled, despite the 'technical difficulties' of doing so.
The European Commission is not likely to decide on the issue until late this year, at the earliest. It will then take account of the EGE recommendations, as well as the EFSA's final opinion due in May.
Meanwhile, in the US, consumer and environmental groups opposed to animal cloning mobilised to block the sale of food from the offspring of cloned livestock, following the FDA approval.
Friends of the Earth started collecting signatures for a petition to be delivered to all the main US grocery groups, saying: 'I urge you to declare that your stores will not sell food from cloned animals. I plan to shop only at stores that can make such a guarantee.'
The RSPCA animal charity called for an immediate ban on cloning animals for food. 'The RSPCA is totally opposed to cloning for food production on animal welfare and ethical grounds. People seem so focused on whether or not we could do this, they have forgotten to look at whether we should,'' said Nikki Osborne, a senior RSPCA scientist.