From Nature magazine

Negotiations over the sale of products from cloned animals in the European Union have broken down and run out of time.

The stalemate means that existing regulations, dating from 1997, remain in place. These state that although authorization is required to market food from clones, the use of their progeny as well as nanomaterials in foods will remain unregulated -- meaning that meat from the offspring of cloned animals can go on sale unlabelled.

The European Parliament had sought a ban on meat and derivative products from the descendants of cloned animals as well as from clones. The European Union (EU) Council, which represents EU member states, and the European Commission insisted on limiting the ban to the clones themselves.

Three years of talks ended in failure on Tuesday after an all-night meeting in Brussels, with each side blaming the other.

Compromise position

At first, a compromise over labelling seemed attainable. The Council offered an eight-point package, including tracing and labelling for meat from cloned cattle in the next six months and labelling for all other food from clones' offspring in two years, if a feasibility study conducted by the Commission was positive. It also offered to draw up separate legislation on cloning by 2013.

But that did not satisfy the Parliament. "A commitment to label all food products from cloned offspring is a bare minimum," delegation chair Gianni Pittella of Italy and novel foods rapporteur Kartika Liotard of the Netherlands said in a joint statement.

"It is deeply frustrating that Council would not listen to public opinion and support urgently needed measures to protect consumer and animal welfare interests," they said. "Measures regarding clone offspring are absolutely critical because clones are commercially viable only for breeding, not directly for food production. No farmer would spend €100,000 on a cloned bull, only to turn it into hamburgers."

A 2008 Eurobarometer survey of 25,000 EU citizens found that 58% of respondents considered cloning for food to be "unjustified"; 83% believed that food from clones should be labelled if put on sale, and 63% said it was "unlikely" they would buy such food.

Although the Commission is supposed to mediate between the Council and Parliament, Liotard alleged that it took the Council's side on many issues, including warning that the Parliament's position could trigger a trade war.

Blame game

The Council blamed the Parliament for the talks' collapse. In a statement, it said that it had "exhausted every possibility" to reach a solution on food from cloned animals and condemned the "European Parliament's inability to compromise on its request for mandatory labelling for food derived from offspring of cloned animals", irrespective of the technical and practical implications.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said last year that not enough studies had been conducted to assess the risks of food from cloning. It concluded that, although many cloned animals have fatal health problems, there is no sign of any differences between the meat and milk of clones and their offspring and products from conventionally bred animals.Members of the European Parliament dismissed the Commission's argument that the descendants of clones are scientifically indistinguishable from traditionally bred animals. As illegally harvested wood can be traced through documentation along the supply chain, they see no reason why food from a clone's lineage cannot receive the same treatment. "It is a question of political will," Liotard told Nature.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on March 29, 2011.