It is more than 20 years since Dolly the Sheep was unveiled to the world as the first mammal to be cloned from an adult animal cell, but there are still no specific laws prohibiting or regulating the cloning of farm animals.
This means cloning is not yet illegal in the UK. However, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons states that cloning is not recognised veterinary practice and, under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, it is considered an experimental procedure requiring licensing by the Home Office.
Furthermore, the European Parliament voted in 2015 to ban the cloning of all farm animals (except in the case of research purposes), and the sale of their offspring and products derived from cloned farm animals. However, no legislation has yet been passed – so what laws currently apply in relation to cloned animals in the UK?
Cloned animals have the same legal protection as any other animal, including under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. These laws also apply to donor and surrogate animals. For more information, read here.
Food from cloned animals
The sale of meat and other food products derived from cloned farm animals is legal. However, cloned farm animal food products are treated as ‘novel foods’ which means they are subject to Regulation (EC) No. 258/97 (as amended) concerning novel foods and novel food ingredients.
There is some doubt as to whether animal food products derived from the descendants of cloned animals is covered by the Regulations. The UK Food Standards Agency’s view is that they apply to food from both cloned animals and to food from the ancestry of cloned animals, but the view of the EC is that the Regulations only apply to food from cloned animals.
The Regulations prohibit the sale of foods and food ingredients in the EU which:
- present a danger to consumers
- mislead consumers
- differ from foods or food ingredients which they are intended to replace to such an extent that their normal consumption would be nutritionally disadvantageous for consumers
Before a person can sell a novel food (or novel food ingredient) the food/ingredient must have a market safety assessment and authorisation (Novel Foods Regulation No 2015/2283). To secure authorisation, they must submit a request to the Member State in which it is first to be marketed (to the Food Standards Agency if in the UK). A copy must also be sent to the European Commission.
The request should be accompanied by:
- studies and any other available material demonstrating that the food or ingredient does not present a danger or nutritional disadvantage to consumers or mislead them, and
- by proposals for the presentation and labelling of the food or ingredient, and
- a summary of the dossier of information
An initial assessment will then be carried out by the Member State, with an initial assessment report prepared within 3 months. A copy of the report is sent to the EC and the other Member States for their comments and/or reasoned objections. Any comments and/or objections must be submitted to the EC within 60 days.
Then, either an ‘additional assessment’ or ‘authorised decision’ will be required before a decision is made by the EC. A decision will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
The EC Regulation also requires novel foods (and ingredients) derived from cloned animals to be labelled accordingly. That said, the Food Standards Agency says it is not necessary to label meat or milk obtained from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs for public safety reasons.
Furthermore, the view of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is that mandatory labelling of meat or milk products derived from ancestors of cloned animals would be impractical and unenforceable. Further legislation is likely in future.