Are you ready for cloned meat?

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Cloned meat moved a step closer to being a supermarket shelf reality yesterday when the European Union's food safety authority was asked to rule on the matter.

The European Commission has asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to look at the environmental, animal health, animal welfare and food safety effects of cloning.

An EC spokesman has intimated that while the European Union's 27 member countries would be asked for their opinion, they would not necessarily have a formal role in the decision making process. This would leave the EFSA, a body that has consistently favoured technical innovation in foods and has consistently approved genetically-modified crops, free to decide on the matter.

A spokesman for the Commission said:
‘Animal cloning is a new breeding technique, which is currently used almost exclusively for research purposes in the EU. However, it appears likely to develop and expand both in the EU and internationally in the future.’

The issue became more pressing in January after a British farmer revealed the birth of a calf born from a cloned father and surrogate mother. There are no rules covering whether its milk should undergo extra tests before being sold.

Jonathan Mathews, founder of GM Watch - - and LobbyWatch -, commented:

‘We know that cloned animals are genetically defective - with as many as 4-5% of their genes expressed incorrectly - but it would be no surprise if the EFSA, through its reductionist prism, failed to take account of the implications of that. What is inescapable, though, is that this technology is an animal welfare disaster, generating death and abnormality on a totally unacceptable scale.’

He continued: ‘Given consumer aversion there will almost certainly be a boycott but to have a choice we 'll need not just labelling but the ability to track back the exact origins of all milk and meat. A single bull whose semen is traded by brokers can produce more than 100,000 descendants in just four generations. And the trade in semen and embryos from cloned animals is already underway.’

This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007