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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
seeing double

Remember Dolly? There may not be another as EU steps closer to full cloning ban

EU lawmakers backed calls to tighten up a proposed ban on cloning animals.

Dolly - The cloned sheep EMPICS Sports Photo Agency Dolly the sheep - the world's first cloned sheep - back in 2002. EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

ALMOST 20 YEARS ago, the world was in awe of a sheep named Dolly.

Why? She was the first animal to be cloned and it opened up a whole host of questions that the EU hopes to deal with once and for all.

This week, EU lawmakers backed calls to tighten up a proposed ban on cloning animals, their descendants and the products that derive from them.

The European Commission says it is ready to ban animal cloning in the 28-nation bloc but MEPs said it had to go further to halt all imports and the use of cloned products to ensure they never find a place on European farms.

What’s been going on up till now? 

Up until now, cloned farm animals — which are hugely expensive to develop — are not used for food but for breeding purposes, with their embryos and semen used widely in the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

The Commission’s current proposal bans farm animal cloning but would allow the sale of meat and milk produced by their descendants.

“Up to now, we have been able to import reproductive material from third countries. We are washing our hands letting others do the dirty work,” said MEP Renate Sommer, who presented the recommendations in a report to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Dolly the Sheep - Preserved. Maurice McDonald Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute pictured, with his old friend, Dolly, the world s first cloned sheep, who died in 2003. She has been pickled and mounted on a straw-covered plinth and is on permanent display at Edinburgh s Royal Museum. Maurice McDonald

“We want to ban comprehensively. Not just the use of cloning techniques but the imports of reproductive material, clones and their descendants,” Sommer said.

“I’d like to ask the European Commission to rethink this whole thing.”

Sceptical of TTIP 

Lawmakers and the public are deeply suspicious Brussels could allow widespread use of animal cloning and genetically modified foods under the terms of a massive free trade agreement being negotiated with the United States.

EU leaders insist health standards will not suffer but Parliament remains sceptical about the merits of what is known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Giula Moi, who with Sommer brought the recommendations forward, said:

“We need to take into account the impact on animal health but also on human health.”

“This report sends the message to our trade partners that we are not willing to put our own health, our families’ health, and future generations’ health at stake using products of dubious quality of this nature,” Moi said.

“We want to be sure that we don’t go down a path from which there is no return,” she added in a parliamentary statement.

Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael MEP for Midlands-North West told Karen Coleman, for EuroParlRadio, the debate is not black and white.

She recalls a news story this year about the cloning of world famous Irish stallion, Cruising.

Horse Racing - 2011 Punchestown Festival - World Series Hurdle Day PA WIRE PA WIRE

McGuinness said two cloned offspring of the famous horse was a “big celebration”. She said there were little concerns raised by the public then.

At the time, Mary McCann, the breeder behind Ireland’s first cloned showjumping horses says she expected some people to not agree with the practice.

“A lot of countries outside of Europe are breeding genetic material that they are exporting to the European Union and we have to be careful not to close of that opportunity for European agriculture – it is not a black and white issue… it is a lot more complex.”

Easier said than done

“A ban is easier to say than implement,” she said.

Minced beef EMPICS Sports Photo Agency EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

While the plan to ban cloning outright might be a good plan, some MEPs are saying it is impossible to implement as farmers want to access the genetic material.

McGuinness questions whether a ban could actually be implemented in reality.

EU Food and Health Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatitis said the restrictions in were not “justified,” arguing that descendants of cloned animals showed no health problems while a complete ban might be difficult to sustain in law.

The MEP’s report was adopted by 529 votes to 120, with 57 abstentions, and will now form the basis for what are likely to be difficult negotiations with the Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

What do you think?

Mini-poll: Should the EU ban the cloning of animals? 

Poll Results:

No (546)
Yes (528)
I don't know (161)

Additional reporting AFP 

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