The cloning of animals for meat and milk is now technologically possible, although the high costs of the actual cloning mean that products from the progeny of clones would be most likely to enter the food chain.
The European Commission has previously said that meat and milk from cloned animals are “expected to spread within the global food as early as 2010”, according to a Parliament communiqué.
Before that happens, however, there are some serious issues of safety, ethics and consumer acceptance that need to be addressed.
The survey, conducted in July, involved 25,000 randomly selected citizens from across the 27 EU member states.
It found that there was a good (80 per cent of respondents) understanding of what cloning is. But an overwhelming 86 per cent were sceptical about who had the most to gain for cloning animals for food – saying the food industry would be in line for the greatest gains.
Fifty-four per cent said cloning would not ultimately benefit consumers; and 44 said it would not ultimately benefit farmers.
Some 43 per cent said they would not buy produce from cloned animals; and 41 per cent would not buy produce from the offspring of cloned animals.
Eighty-one per cent of respondents said that 81 per cent felt the long-term effects on nature are unknown, and 84 per cent said we do not have enough experience of the long-term health and safety effects.
An average of 58 per cent said they thought animal cloning for food use would never be justified; 38 per cent said that none of the potential benefits presented to them – whether health or economic – would justify cloning for food; but 41 per cent said it may be justified to improve animal robustness against diseases, and 44 per cent to preserve rare animal species.
Of those that did believe in the benefits some 54 per cent said cloning could help alleviate world food problems.
EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou called the insights provided by the survey “valuable”.
It provides the Commission with a third perspective on the matter, alongside opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Group of Ethics (EGE), both of which were delivered earlier this year.
“The European Commission will now proceed with the analysis of [all three] elements before considering whether and what action may be necessary,” Vassiliou said.
EFSA and EGE opinions
EFSA concluded in its final opinion in July that food products from cloned pigs and cattle are “probably” safe.
However, it warned that the data available was 'limited'. Most of the studies conducted to date have been of small sample size and there is little information on animals remaining alive for considerable periods.
The EGE said in January that it did not see "convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring."
The prospect has met with strong resistance from the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee. In June, it called for the Commission to propose a ban on animal cloning and the marketing of products from cloned animals and their offspring – a resolution was approved by the MEP Intergroup on Animal Welfare.
Neil Parish, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, said: “[Cloned] animals suffer from many more ailments and generally live far shorter lives. From an agricultural perspective, there are serious questions over the effect of this on the gene pool, making cloned animals far more susceptible to disease.”