Published in the autumn edition of TResearch, the results are the findings of an investigation by Ireland’s Teagasc Agriculture and Food Development Authority, the Dublin Institute of Technology and the University College Cork.
The interviews, carried out with “expert Irish stakeholders”, aimed to frame policy debate and assess the prospects for future commercialisation of animal cloning.
“The views of Irish stakeholders in the discourse on animal cloning for the agri-food sector are of particular interest because, unlike the GM debate in relation to crops, Ireland is a significant producer and exporter of meat and livestock,” said Dr Maeve Henchion, Head of the Food Market Research Unit, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown.
“For this reason the exploitation of cloning in other trading blocs looks set to pose a challenge for Irish and EU policy makers, industry and citizens.”
Dr Henchion noted that cloned animals intended for use within the agri-food system do not have approval in Europe, and that the technology’s legislation is currently under discussion.
“The views of European citizens and consumers must also be factored into the risk process. Early indications from the European public are that they are wary of the technology and that it poses an ethical dilemma. This research provides an opportunity to examine animal cloning in terms of barriers and opportunities, specifically pertaining to its potential role within the Irish agri-food system.”
However, the interview findings revealed that animal cloning for food purposes was not viewed as a likely commercial prospect by any respondents.
Awareness of the recent commercial development of such technology in the US appeared to be low, with only a single interviewee identifying it as an impending regulatory dilemma for the EU, said Teagasc.
Most interviewees considered that cloning was used to supersede the fertilisation process rather than to assist reproduction, and to be more closely aligned (mistakenly) to a genetic modification process.
“The data from the in-depth interviews highlighted that, as yet, there has been little debate on the topic, and the commercialisation of cloning elsewhere has gained little attention,” said Teagasc.
“Regardless of when the debate does occur, the animal welfare and consumer acceptability perspectives are likely to have a central role in how the technology is regulated. Further research in this project will focus on examining Irish citizens’ perspectives on cloning technology and the issues raised by the expert stakeholders during the current study.”
Cloning in the spotlight
The issue of cloning recently gathered renewed public interest after it emerged last month that meat from cloned animals entered the UK’s food chain.
The series of events that followed prompted the European Commission to remind EU member states that food from descendents of clones are conventional foods, and therefore no special measures apply.
In 2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a scientific opinion stating that current evidence does not show a meat and milk from cloned animals or their offspring to pose health issues for humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came to a similar conclusion in 2008, effectively making it legal for such products to enter the food chain in the United States.