All night talks between the Parliament and the Council broke down in the early hours of Thursday morning as neither side is prepared to back down over produce from cloned animals and their offspring. The Parliament is holding out for a ban on food from cloned animals and their offspring on the grounds of ethics and public opinion, while the Council agrees with the ban on food from clones themselves but rejects it in the case of offspring.
A last ditch conciliation meeting has been provisionally planned for 28th March, but if no consensus is reached the entire regulation will have to be scrapped, and the process started all over again.
Nigel Baldwin, director of scientific and regulatory consulting at Cantox Health Sciences International said the big shame is that the novel foods review has been hijacked by something that was not even in its core objectives.
“It was a side issue,” he said. The aim of the novel foods update, the proposal of which was published in 2008. The original novel foods regulation requires a notoriously long-winded and unpopular process that has been much criticised by industry for stalling innovation, and the original proposal aimed to simplify and streamline it.
“The only reason it [cloning] is still in there is that it is not anywhere else. Until it is in another piece of legislation, they are not going to drop it from this”.
If the whole novel foods update is thrown out because of lack of agreement over cloning, Baldwin expects it will be viewed with apathy by industry.
“It would be symbolic that no-one cares about innovation if they scrap this. It sends a clear message that the people sitting in rooms cannot recognise that industry is desperate to streamline innovation,” he told FoodNavigator.com.
He drew attention to the elements that would be beneficial for industry and for innovation, such as the possibility for applicants to have exclusivity on proprietary data, and the facility for a fast-track process for traditional products from third countries.
These elements would not be able to come into play for at least three years, while the whole proposal is scrapped and re-drawn.
“But there is no point in doing that until there is a regulatory solution for cloned animals. No-one will let them re-table the regulation minus the cloned animals, because there is a regulatory hole there.”
The problem, he said, is how do you test for produce from the offspring of clones? The implication is that you need to have traceability or a moratorium.
In a statement following the breakdown of the talks on Thursday the European Parliament’s delegation chair Gianni Pitella and rapporteur Kartika Liotard laid the blame at the feet of the Council.
"The Parliament has made considerable efforts towards reaching a compromise but these were not mirrored by Council,” they said in a statement.
“It is simply incredible that the Council, which consists of the same political parties as the Parliament, cannot agree to the Parliament position on the prohibition of food from cloned animals and their offspring. It is equally incredible that the Council is willing to turn a blind eye to public opinion, as well as the ethical and animal welfare problems associated with cloning.”
They added: “If the position of Council and Commission remains exclusively tied to commercial trade interests, Parliament won't accept any deal.”
However the Council said that there is no reason for a ban on foods from the naturally conceived off-spring of clones – and if such a ban were introduced the EU would have to reject beef and dairy imports from countries like the US, since there is no system in place for tracing ancestry in the foods chain.
“Such a ban would be impossible to defend under WTO rules and would lead to direct retaliatory measures by third countries,” said the Council statement.