Meat produced from cloned animal entered British food chain
Published 04/08/2010 | 10:30
Meat from the offspring of a cloned cow has entered the British food chain, authorities there have admitted for the first time.
Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that meat from the three-year old bull was slaughtered, sold and eaten last year. It is thought the meat, likely to have ended up in a pie or burger, was sold in Scotland.
The admission comes despite two days of strong denials from both the FSA and the dairy industry that no milk or meat from cloned animals or their offspring had ever entered the food chain.
Food from a cloned animal, or the offspring of a cloned animal, is illegal, according to the FSA. Though yesterday there was widespread disagreement between the FSA and Brussels over the interpretation of the law, with European officials – in charge of setting all British food safety laws – saying it was "probable" that thousands of cheese and meat products on sale in British supermarkets had come from animals that were derived from clones.
An EU official said that because there were no restrictions on importing semen which had come from a cloned animal, it was possible that thousands of pigs and cows in Europe were the offspring of cloned animals. Millions of shots of semen are imported into the UK every year, and the Department for Agriculture confirmed it did not monitor whether they were from cloned animals or not.
There is no evidence that eating milk or meat from an animal that has been cloned or its offspring is detrimental to human health, but animal welfare campaigners argue the cloning process is very harmful for the animals themselves and produces sheep and cows with a shortened lifespan.
David Bowles, a spokesman for the RSPCA, which opposes cloning, said: "I am horrified that meat from a clone has already entered the food chain, without us knowing about it.
"Some unsuspecting person has eaten this meat. And we just don't know whether it is harmful for human health, but we do know there are serious welfare issues. Cloned meat should not be on sale."
The row over cloning erupted after an unnamed farmer claimed in an American newspaper that he had illegally sold milk from the offspring of a cloned cow.
This has yet to be proved, but Holstein UK, responsible for registering all pedigree cows and bulls on farms, has confirmed that there are 97 calves in a herd in Scotland, which are all derived from the offspring of a cloned cow.
All the animals ultimately come from Vandyk-K Integ Paradise 2, a cloned cow in America. She was cloned using cells from the ear of a Holstein, a milking cow about five years ago.
Vandyk-K was artificially inseminated with semen from a prize-winning bull in America. Embryos were then removed from her, frozen and flown to the UK, where they were implanted in two surrogate mother cows.
Her offspring include Dundee Perfect and Dundee Paratrooper. The FSA said yesterday that Perfect was slaughtered only last week and the meat had been intercepted before entering the food chain.
Dundee Paratrooper was slaughtered a year ago. "Meat from this animal entered the food chain and will have been eaten," the FSA said.
Molly Conisbee, of the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic food, said: "This is a huge matter of concern. We were assured by the regulators that no cloned food had entered the food chain, and now it appears it has. There has been a huge failure of the system, of regulation and of labelling."
The two bulls, now slaughtered, sired 97 cows. They are currently too young to be producing milk, it is believed. But the FSA is checking whether this is the case and whether any other offspring of Vandyk-K have entered the food chain.
Officials in Brussels, however, suggested that it could be far more than just the one bull that had entered the food chain.
An EU official said: “It is a little ridiculous to talk about these embryos because semen trading is so huge.
"We import millions of doses of semen from the US and Canada and it is more than probable among them are doses from cloned animals. If just one per cent or 0.1pc is from cloned animals then there are 100,000s or 1,000s of first generation offspring. Second generation bred from the first would be an even greater number. The issue is exactly the same for pigs.”
“If the FSA then reached the likely conclusion that 100s or 1000s of British cows are offspring of cloned animals what will they do? Destroy the milk or slaughter the animals?”
Holstein UK said that though Defra did not monitor whether the semen was from a cloned animal, it did keep a record, and to its knowledge no semen from cloned animals had been imported into Britain.
However, officials in Brussels suggested it was possible that European food imported to Britain, such as salami and French or Italian cheese could well be ultimately derived from cloned animals, and no label or restrictions could stop that flow of trade.
British Government figures indicated that Britain imported £900m worth of cheese last year.