Milk and meat from the progeny of cloned animals could soon be hitting the shelves of European supermarkets. Some groups have been critical of such products, which are already on sale in the United States.
Is it cloned? Scientists say it's impossible to tell
European agriculture ministers approved the sale of milk and meat from the direct offspring of cloned animals on Monday. Germany had long opposed the move, but finally changed its position.
According to Monday's decision, food products originating from the progeny of cloned animals will still have to receive approval by the European Food Safety Authority before they can be sold in the EU. The sale of meat and milk from cloned animals themselves, however, is not permitted.
No scientific differences
A scientific committee set up by the EFSA came to the conclusion in a July 2008 report that there were no convincing arguments against permitting the sale of food products from cloned animals.
Cloned animals would be subject to the same EU controls as other animals
"There is no indication that differences exist in terms of food safety for meat and milk of clones and their progeny compared with those from conventionally bred animals," the EFSA report said. "Such a conclusion is based on the assumption that meat and milk are derived from healthy animals, which are subject to relevant food safety controls."
The authority, however, also said there were uncertainties in the risk assessment of food from cloned animals due to the limited number of studies available and the small sample sizes investigated.
Germany's Farmers Association has come out against the sale of food products from cloned animals or their offspring. Also pointing to the small amount of scientific research on the topic, the group said food products from cloned animals and their offspring should not be sold until all possible consequences of consuming it have been analyzed.
The European Parliament has also criticized plans to sell the meat and milk of cloned animals' progeny. The body's most recent position on the issue came in March, when it opposed the sale of such products.
Peter Liese, a German member of the European Parliament, told reporters Monday that the agriculture ministers' decision was "not the last word" on the issue, adding that the Parliament was against the cloning of animals for food production.
While food from cloned animals is not necessarily harmful to humans' health, "its risks also cannot be ruled out," he said.
German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has called for the EU to analyze the ethical dimensions of selling food from progeny of cloned animals in a year's time, a demand also made by the German Farmers Association. But further discussions are likely as not all EU members are in favor of such a study.
Not everyone is convinced that milk from cloned cows is safe to drink
The consumer rights group Foodwatch also called for a study examining the ethical dimensions of cloning animals. The group wants regulations requiring any food products from cloned animals or their offspring to be clearly labeled.
"People should be have the right to refuse cloned meat and fish for any reason," Foodwatch head Matthias Wolfschmnidt told reporters. "If cloned meat is in something, then the label has to say so."
The United States was the first country to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned cattle, swine and goats. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the products for human consumption in 2008 and does not require that they be specially labeled.
Despite the debate raging in the European Union, Germany's Deputy Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann said he doesn't expect many foods from cloned animals to be landing on tables.
"At the moment, a cloned animals costs about 50 times as much as a non-cloned animal," he said.
Editor: Kate Bowen
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