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.