Using cloned animals for production of food such as meat and milk is not justified, say experts on ethics reporting to the European Commission.
Just days after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in a draft opinion that such foods were unlikely to pose any risk to human health, the European Group on Ethics (EGE) said that it did not see "convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring".
"Considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified," it reported yesterday.
The European Commission began a consultation with experts on cloning in February 2007, following the announcement by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it could authorise food products derived from cloned cattle, pigs and goats on the market.
The ethics group consists of 15 experts appointed by the EC to examine ethical questions arising from science and new technologies and to advise on possible legislation. It said that if cloned animals were to be introduced to the food market, several steps should be followed including more research on food safety and animal welfare.
The group said that cloned animals typically experienced a high rate of disease and other health problems that include increased weight, malformations, respiratory problems, enlarged livers, hemorrhaging and kidney abnormalities.
In cattle, about 20 per cent of cloned calves do not survive the first 24 hours after birth and an additional 15 per cent die before weaning, said a statement.
"Further ethical, legal and social implications of animal cloning for food supply as well as qualitative studies on public perception should be carried out," it advised.
Earlier this week however, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for sale to the public. The decision proved controversial among different groups including both food industry and consumers.
Recent opinion polls show the majority of Americans do not want milk or meat from cloned animals in their food. A December 2006 poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that nearly two-thirds of US consumers were uncomfortable with animal cloning.
The Center for Food Safety, a US-based consumer group, praised the EGE's decision. "This announcement sends a strong message to American food producers and trade representatives: your clones will not find a market in the European Union," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director.
It has criticized the evidence consulted by FDA and the organisation's lack of tracking system or labeling of products produced from clones or their offspring.
EFSA's definitive report on the safety of cloned animals for food use is expected in May.