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Council wants clone produce under novel foods – for now

By Jess Halliday , 16-Mar-2010

The European Council has adopted a position on the proposed novel foods amendment that includes produce from clones as a stop-gap, but suggests specific legislation be put in place in the near future.

The 1997 novel foods regulation is set for a revamp, with an amendment making its way through the lawmaking process in Brussels. The aim is to speed up the process, which has been criticised for staunching innovation, and take into consideration emerging areas of science such as cloning and nanotechnology.

In its position, on which members of Environment Council voted in Brussels yesterday without discussion, the Council said that it would like food produced from cloned animals and their offspring would be included under the new legislation. However it would invite the Commission to report on all aspects of food from clones within one year of the regulation entering into force and, if necessary, to submit a proposal for specific legislation.

An EU official said that produce from cloned animals is implicitly included under existing novel foods rules, but the amended regulation would look to make the situation explicit. In fact, the inclusion of produce from clones themselves is a moot point because these animals are too costly to produce to enter the food chain. However it is feasible that their off-spring could be used for food purposes.

The official said this led the Commission to exclude produce from off-spring of clones in its proposal, because the European Food Safety Authority has published its scientific opinion that produce from the offspring of clones would not present a risk to human health. Including them would mean a system has to be established for tracing clones’ offspring – which are produced by sexual means like all other livestock.

He said media reports that the Council is opening the door to clones in the food supply are wrong. Rather, inclusion of produce from clones under novel foods as a first step towards providing clarity, to plug a legal gap and ensure there is an authorisation procedure in place. Specific legislation in the future would set out how handle this produce – for example, via a system of traceability or a ban.

Needed or not?

Although the decision was taken without discussion, several member states have put their views on the inclusion of produce from clones’ offspring on the record. The UK (which abstained in vote) and The Netherlands said it is premature to call for wide-ranging legislation before the Commission has properly assessed the need for it and submitted a report to the Council and the Parliament, and before a detailed impact assessment carried out.

Greece also abstained, citing the precautionary principle in its view that “in order to protect human health, the health and well-being of animals, and the sustainability of the environment, the placing of such foods on the internal market should be prohibited”.

Germany, meanwhile, said it has reservations about the inclusion, but said it supports the approach proposed so as not to stand in the way of a compromise solution.

Other issues

The Council is also proposing that food containing or consisting of nanomaterials are explicitly included in the scope of the new novel foods regulation.

Other issues on novel food that are of consequence in the Council position are the need for a streamlined, central authorisation procedure for novel foods whereby EFSA would carry out risk assessment. It allows for an accelerated procedure for traditional foods that have been eaten for at least 25 years by a large part of the population of a third country.

The Council’s position also allows applicants for novel foods approval to apply for protection of their scientific data for newly developed foods for a five-year period, in order to stimulate innovation.

The novel foods proposal will now pass back to the European Parliament for a second reading.

The Parliament currently favours an outright ban on produce from cloned animals and their offspring in the food system.