Calls for cool heads over cloned US cow

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SNP Member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee Mr Alyn Smith has today (Wednesday) called for calm in the wake of reports that a bull born in Scotland of embryos harvested from a cloned American cow did enter the human food chain.

While sharing concerns over the ethics of cloning, Smith stressed that there is no evidence of any possible risk to humans and that the planned EU ban on such “novel foods” is precautionary, and in response to ethical concerns and worries over the potential practical impact on the animal gene pool, not any risk to human health.


SNP Member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee Mr Alyn Smith has today (Wednesday) called for calm in the wake of reports that a bull born in Scotland of embryos harvested from a cloned American cow did enter the human food chain.

While sharing concerns over the ethics of cloning, Smith stressed that there is no evidence of any possible risk to humans and that the planned EU ban on such “novel foods” is precautionary, and in response to ethical concerns and worries over the potential practical impact on the animal gene pool, not any risk to human health.

Mr Smith has, however, called for a full stock take of the genetics of agriculture, and written to Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, Maureen Watt, suggesting that the Holyrood Committee conduct a full inquiry into the issue in Scotland.

In 2008 the SNP MEP spent the day shadowing an Artificial Insemination technician around farms in Dumfries and Galloway as part of his regular summer work experience, specifically to acquaint himself with the issues around the genetics of agriculture.

Mr Smith said:

“There is a lot more science in farming than people appreciate, and so we must always be rational in our approach to it in agriculture. It is through science that we have been able to increase yields and feed the burgeoning world population.  We, in Scotland, have a flourishing biotech sector which has played an important role in developing these technologies.

“Sometimes, however, as in all things, the science moves faster than human morality or sentiment can keep up with, and we must recognise that there is a lot of concern over cloning, with good reason.  There is no evidence of a threat to humans, so some concern is more evidence-based than others, but I think my fellow MEPs have struck a proportionate and workable stance in that we want to see a ban on the use of such technology until we have more thoroughly investigated it.

“My personal concern is over the rapid impact that cloning could have on the animal gene pool, with potentially massively limiting effects within a few generations, in less than a decade.  We must ensure that the regulatory framework for such new technology with such a potentially disproportionate impact is right.  As we see with these embryos being imported from the US, it is already fair to talk about a global gene pool.

“That it appears some farmers have imported embryos from cloned animals is very concerning, and can only undermine public faith in what is already a pretty robust system. The whole affair has helped to strengthen the case for compulsory country of origin labelling. If we want to maintain consumer confidence then the public should be provided with information on where animals were born, reared and slaughtered. It is very disappointing that the UK government has been so reticent on this.

“My suggestion is that a cross party inquiry be held in Scotland into the issues, to ventilate the existing science, and to scout out the likely effects of future developments.  I would hope that such an inquiry would be able to bring Scotland as a whole into the discussion so that we can weigh up the benefits and disadvantages of this new technology on a rational basis, not as a knee jerk reaction to a dubious importation.”

The meat that entered the food chain was from a bull slaughtered in 2009 which was reared on a farm in Albrighton in Shropshire.  It is understood that the meat did not conform to standards that would have allowed it to be labelled ‘scotch beef’.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said consumers “deserve to know the origin of all foods they purchase” and he was “concerned to learn that the offspring of these animals have been reared in the UK for food production purposes without any authorisation from the Food Standards Agency”.

It has also emerged that the FSA have admitted that they do not know how many cloned embryos have been imported into the UK.