The US is known to be one of a number of countries actively engaged in cloning bulls for breeding. The underlying idea is to use bulls with desired breeding characteristics for breeding even if, for example, the original bulls are too old to perform or already deceased. The process of cloning is the same as that developed for the cloned sheep, Dolly. In brief, the nucleus from a somatic cell is transferred to an oocyte. If the cells start to divide, as is the case with embryos, they are transferred to a surrogate cow. It takes several hundred attempts to produce one cloned animal that looks healthy, and might eventually be used for breeding purposes. Sperm from bulls is frozen and traded globally. Breeders in the EU use it for the artificial insemination of cows. As research shows, cows stemming from cloned bulls have already been registered by a professional UK breeding organisation.
What is the problem?
Every year, around 30 to 40 tons of bull sperm from US enter the EU for the purpose of cattle breeding. However, there are currently no requirements for registration or labelling of imports into the EU. Therefore, it is impossible to identify breeding material stemming from cloned bulls.
The European Parliament, as well as the German Bundestag and the German government all advocate a ban on cloned animals for food production in the EU. The reasons are mostly ethical, since cloning inherently means animal suffering due to disturbances in their gene regulation. Consequently, the EU Parliament is amongst those institutions demanding that transparency measures are established in order to register the clones, their offspring, relevant products and material. Without these measures, the animals and food derived thereof can enter the market unnoticed. As yet, there is no transparency in this sector, and no information is available to farmers, food producers or consumers.
The upcoming free trade agreement CETA is likely to impede greater transparency. Under CETA, mandatory labelling of relevant products might simply be regarded as an unjustified trade barrier. Testbiotech recommends that the EU seeks legal certainty and clarity before the free trade agreement comes into effect. Otherwise, farmers, food producers and consumers will be left in a state of continuous uncertainty if, in future, transparency and freedom of choice cannot be ensured.