BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Wednesday again proposed a ban on food and products from cloned animals, two years after failing to block their use.
EU governments and lawmakers rejected the first move in 2011 because of a dispute over labelling. If approved, the latest draft rules would ban the use of cloning in commercial farming within the 28-nation bloc for five years, and prohibit the sale and import of food such as meat or milk from cloned animals.
While it would be illegal to import cloned animals from countries where the technique is used commercially, such as the United States and Brazil, the import and sale of food from the offspring of clones would be allowed.
The EU executive said the distinction was justified because the welfare concerns surrounding animal cloning - which has a success rate of less than 20 percent and often results in birth defects or miscarriage - do not apply to their conventionally bred offspring.
"Today's proposals seek to ensure that no cloning for farming purposes will be carried out in the European Union, and no such clone will be imported as long as these animal welfare concerns persist," European health commissioner Tonio Borg told a news briefing to present the proposals.
But the draft rules could run into opposition from lawmakers in the European Parliament, which previously said it would only accept the sale of food from the young of clones if all such products were clearly labelled.
Opponents of the idea say it would require regulators to draw up a family tree for every slice of cheese or salami sold in Europe, and the Commission said it needed more time to analyse whether such a labelling scheme was feasible.
But consumer groups said more than 80 percent of Europeans were opposed to eating food from clones and their offspring, and accused the Commission of putting trade relations ahead of the wishes of citizens.
"Without effective labelling, European consumers have no knowledge of what their Argentinian steak or American beef is made of as traceability systems for cloned food do not exist in these countries," European consumer body BEUC said in a statement.
Food issues are likely to among the major hurdles in reaching a milestone trade pact between the EU and the United States, negotiations over which have just kicked off.
COMPLEX AND COSTLY
Animal cloning uses DNA transfer to create an exact genetic copy of an animal. The first mammal to be successfully cloned using a method known as adult nuclear transfer was a sheep named "Dolly", created in 1996 by scientists in Britain.
The technique is complex and costly, ensuring that cloned animals themselves are highly unlikely to be used as food. But they can be bred traditionally to produce offspring that share similar traits, such as high milk production or rapid growth.
Regulators in the United States and Europe have concluded that meat and milk from the offspring of animal clones are as safe as from conventionally bred livestock.
The United States is one of the most advanced countries in terms of commercial animal cloning. It currently has a voluntary moratorium on the sale of food from cloned animals, but not their offspring.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said there are currently only "a few hundred" cloned cattle in the United States, but other estimates provided by companies suggest there could be several thousand.
While cloning is not currently widespread in Europe, there have been reports of milk from the offspring of cloned cows being sold in Britain.