Global Regulations: Cloned Beef

October 6, 2010

If you live in Europe and eat meat, your diet may have experienced a slight change. You may have eaten cloned beef.

If you live in Europe and eat meat, your diet may have experienced a slight change. You may have eaten cloned beef.

In early August, following media reports that cloned beef had entered the European food supply, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed the strange news.

“The agency has established that, in total, meat from three animals has entered the food chain without authorization under the Novel Food Regulations,” read FSA’s website on August 4.

The three cows-Dundee paratrooper, Parable, and Dundee Perfect-were originally harvested from cloned cows in the United States, states FSA. Their meat was reportedly slaughtered in the UK and sold to consumers in Scotland, England, and Belgium.

Letting loose cloned meat has, understandably, put the competency of FSA in question. “Our ambition is to create a public health system that truly helps people live longer and healthier lives,” said Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley. “To achieve it, we can’t stand still. Changes are inevitable.”

Those changes were enacted last month with several interagency movements.

FSA will maintain its role in covering all aspects of labeling related to food safety, including handling food-safety incidents (e.g., fraud and misleading labels that relate to food safety), overseeing genetically modified– and novel-food use, and assessing ingredients with food-safety implications (e.g., allergen and high caffeine).

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will assume all food-labeling responsibilities outside of those relating to food safety. Responsibilities will span general food labeling, country-of-origin labeling, use of marketing terms (e.g., natural, fresh, vegetarian), and food-authenticity programs. The Department of Health will deal with nutrition labeling, including for front-of-pack labeling, infant formulas, health and nutrition claims, and food supplements.

So far, role changes have only been made in regard to FSA’s handling of English affairs. At the time of publication, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were still considering whether or not to rearrange FSA’s responsibilities in their territories.

With the UK still engaged in cleaning up the cloning affair, a strong governmental voice in opposition to cloning remains to be seen. In January, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA; Parma, Italy) stated, “No environmental impact is foreseen as a result of animal cloning, but there is only limited data available.” FSA recently echoed those opinions, saying, “While there is no evidence that consuming products from health clones or their offspring poses a food-safety risk, meat and products from clones and their offspring are considered novel foods and would therefore need to be authorized before being placed on the market.”

But in a FSA board meeting held September 15, speakers brought up the challenges that could take place in implementing legislation to monitor cloned progeny.

“I have a problem with legislation that cannot be implemented,” said Graeme Millar, board member and chair of the Scottish Food Advisory Committee. Millar went on to suggest that the UK hold off on taking any further positions until EFSA engages with EU member countries on the matter later this year.

If the case for consuming cloned animals is still a bit shaky overseas, in the United States, there is firm industry opposition.

“The National Dairy Council and the dairy industry as a whole support USDA’s decision to keep in place the voluntary moratorium on milk and meat from cloned animals entering the food supply,” said Stacey Stevens, vice president of media and industy affairs at the National Dairy Council, in an interview with Nutritional Outlook. “The U.S. dairy industry has opposed the commercialization of cloning technology, so the question of the marketability of products from cloned cows is a moot point.”