Foods produced from cloned animals fall under Regulation (EC) No 258/97 (the 'Novel Foods Regulation'). This means that meat, milk or eggs from cloned animals would be subjected to a safety evaluation and approved by all European Union (EU) member states as a novel food before they could be marketed legally.
The Novel Foods Regulation can be found on the European Commission website via the link below.
Assessing new food technologies
The Food Standards Agency is the UK body responsible for the assessment of novel foods and it will not assess the safety of using cloned animals and their offspring in the food chain unless it is asked to do so. If a company wants authorisation to market food produced using cloned animals, then the Agency is obliged to assess the food safety implications.
During any such safety assessment, the Agency will consult an independent advisory committee, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP). The ACNFP comprises experts who advise the Agency on a wide range of new foods and food technologies.
The Agency is aware that the use of cloned animals in the food chain has been examined by the authorities in the US, which announced in January 2008 that edible products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats are as safe as their conventional counterparts. As a result, some US producers could start to use cloned animals or, more likely, the offspring of cloned animals. This may lead to the technology being considered for use in Europe.
Seeking views from the public
In advance of the possibility of being asked to consider the safety of food produced from cloned animals, the FSA carried out research in 2008 to help understand the views of the UK public about this technology and about cloned animals, their offspring and their products (such as milk and eggs) entering the UK food chain.
The key areas of concern raised by people were food safety, consumer benefits, animal welfare and trust. The research report concluded that the general public would only accept the idea of buying and eating food derived from clones and their offspring if each of these concerns has been addressed.
The findings from this research will enable the views of the UK public to be reflected in any EU discussions about the use of the technology.
The summary report of findings can be found at the link towards the end of this page.
Concerns about animal welfare and agricultural practices are not dealt with by the Agency. These are the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
What is cloning?
Cloning is the creation of an organism (the clone) that is an exact genetic copy of another organism (the donor).
Clones occur in nature and many plants, such as strawberries, propagate in this way. Some animals also clone themselves, such as amoeba (a microscopic single-celled organism) and some insects, such as greenfly. Cloning sometimes occurs in humans too – identical twins can be thought of as clones as they share exactly the same genetic material (although strictly speaking neither one is a copy of the other).
Cloning is widely used in horticulture, as plants grown from a cutting or a graft are genetic copies of the original plants, and some foods that we eat, such as potatoes, bananas and grapes are derived from clones.
Clones of cattle and other farm animals can be produced using a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). SCNT was first used successfully in sheep to produce 'Dolly' at the Roslin Institute in 1996. SCNT does not occur naturally.
‘Novel’ status of food from descendants of cloned cattle and pigs
At its meeting in December 2010, the FSA Board made clear its position that the marketing of products obtained from cloned animals should continue to be subject to the Novel Foods Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 258/97), and require authorisation. However, based on the available evidence, the Board agreed that there are no food safety grounds for regulating food such as meat and milk from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs.
The Agency subsequently sought the views of interested parties on this potential change in the interpretation of the regulation in respect of food from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs.
The majority of responses received by the FSA did not address the specific question regarding the scope of the regulation but raised various concerns about food safety, animal welfare and ethics. Although some specific questions, including whether the Agency should take factors other than food safety into account when assessing novel foods, were raised and considered by the Agency none of the responses received were viewed to change the overall conclusion reached by the Board.
In view of this, the FSA announced on 13 May 2011 that it had changed its advice on the scope of the novel foods regulation in relation to the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs. In doing so, the FSA indicated that it will investigate what further steps might be taken in light of the continuing consumer concerns over ethical issues in relation to food from cloned animals or their descendants.
Change.org petition: 'Food from offspring of cloned animals should be labelled'
The Food Standards Agency response to the December 2010 petition raised on the website change.org can be found at the link below.
More information about cloned animals and their offspring entering the food chain can be found at the links below.
More in this section
Friday 13 August 2010
Sometimes the Agency holds meetings with stakeholders and/or consumers to collect their views on aspects of Agency policy. This section contains notes of such meetings that discussed cloning.