The Wall Street JournalBrussels – Europe`s food-safety agency endorsed meat and milk derived from cloned animals, triggering what is likely to be a fierce political battle over whether to allow their sale to consumers.
Friday`s decision came as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is poised to clear cloned-animal products for sale in the U.S. But unlike in the U.S., the endorsement by European Food Safety Authority scientists is only the start of a process that will be decided by the European Union`s 27 governments.
Politicians are likely to respond to public fears about so-called Frankenfoods and try to keep out cloned-animal products, according to EU officials familiar with the process. If that happens, it would restrict growth at U.S. biotech companies and penalize European dairy farmers, say industry experts.
A French official on Friday said France will conduct its own scientific tests. “Food-supply questions are sacred to us,” said Michele-Ann Okolotowicz, an official with the French mission to the EU. EU findings on food safety are supposed to trump national law in these situations, but countries, including France, regularly follow their own.
Friday`s report by EU scientists said it found no evidence of harm from cloned-animal products. “Based on a number of parameters including physiological and clinical ones, healthy clones and healthy offspring do not show any significant differences from their conventional counterparts,” the agency said in its 47-page report.
FDA spokesman Brad A. Swezey welcomed those conclusions, saying they support those in the FDA`s own preliminary report.
Europe`s debate on cloned foods looks similar to the one still raging over whether to allow genetically modified agricultural products, or GMOs, into the food chain. Many Europeans worry that the long-term effects of GMOs aren`t known and that by the time they are it will be too late to react.
Although the European Food Safety Authority has endorsed GMOs, EU governments have ensured that only one genetically modified seed, a kind of corn for animals, can be legally planted in Europe. France, until now the second-largest producer of that corn in the EU after Spain, banned its use last fall pending a review.
Some GMOs, including corn, soybeans and potatoes, can be imported to the EU. European public-opinion polls have shown widespread fear of GMOs since unrelated food scares involving mad-cow disease and dioxins in the 1990s. That reticence keeps U.S. firms like Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co. from cashing in on the EU`s $7 billion annual seed market.
Experts say clones could eventually help food producers bring bigger quantities of higher quality meat and milk to dinner tables. The companies doing the most-advanced work on animal cloning, like Austin, Texas-based Viagen Inc., Pennsylvania-based Cyagra, Inc. and Iowa-based Trans Ova Genetics, are American. A spokesman for Cyagra welcomed the EU`s scientific endorsement but declined to comment on political opposition.
It wouldn`t be the meat of cloned animals, but of their offspring that would likely make it to dinner tables. It costs more than $15,000 to produce a cloned animal, so it`s not efficient to slaughter them. “The only real argument for cloning is if you have a good bull or boar for breeding,” says Jan Merks, managing director for the Institute for Pig Genetics BV, a Netherlands-based breeding consultancy. “Otherwise, there`s no economic case for cloning for food purposes.”
EU citizens and interest groups have until Feb. 25 to respond to the EU agency`s report. The EU`s governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission all will weigh in ahead of a final decision, likely next year.