INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK COPPENS, DIRECTOR, EAS : NEW PROPOSALS A MATTER OF "POLITICAL" CHOICE.
What do you think of the new proposals on animal cloning?
In my opinion, the two texts are quite logical: the first bans the use of cloning for food production and the second requires member states to prohibit the placing on the market or sale of meat from cloned animals. On the other hand, they do not ban meat from the offspring of cloned animals. But as the result of the ban on cloning, there will be no cloned animals and consequently probably no meat produced from cloned animals or their offspring. So the problem is solved indirectly.
The Commission has therefore made a political choice since the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concludes that there is no difference in terms of safety between foods from cloned animals and traditional foods.
The Commission makes no provision for the labelling of food from cloned animals and their offspring. Do you think that could be a problem in the negotiations?
During the previous negotiations, Parliament demanded the labelling of such foods to give consumers the opportunity to make an informed choice. But that isn't feasible in a globalised world. There is no system currently available to check whether the food comes from a cloned animal or the offspring of a clone. A traceability system would have to be put in place. But such a system would be very costly (and would mean higher prices for consumers) and would not go down well in non-EU countries.
There is also no evidence that the industry will really take up this technique for food production. So far, there have been no requests for authorisation under Regulation 258/97 on novel foods. And I think that there is no real advantage for producers.
The Commission makes no provision for the offspring of cloned animals. Why is that?
The proposal aims to ban the cloning technique, so there will be no offspring: that's perfectly logical. The problem is with imports. Meat from cloned animals and their offspring produced in non-EU countries is sold in Europe. There is no system to identify foods produced in other parts of the world that come from the offspring of clones. But here too, this is a discussion that is more focused on ethics than on safety.
In 2010, the co-legislators opposed nanomaterials. A few days ago, Parliament rejected the new definition proposed by the Commission [see box]. Is that a sign?
As I see it, this too is a question of principle. Parliament finds that the definition proposed by the Commission is too narrow, since it does not cover all foods with a nano aspect. But there are lots of such foods, even milk is concerned. We have to be pragmatic. It makes no sense to include everything if the problem comes up with only a few products. Personally, I support the Commission's proposal.
Do you think that the new proposals will fare better than in 2011?
It's hard to say. There is a lot of uncertainty: there will soon be a new Parliament (even if many current members are re-elected) and a new commissioner. It also remains to be seen whether the texts will be discussed as a single package or separately. Parliament may insist on obtaining provisions on the labelling of foods fromaoffspring of cloned animals and could use the other texts to put pressure on the Commission, even if it takes a majority to block a text.
Parliament will therefore have to choose between a system that does not meet 100% of its expectations and scrapping the whole thing.
On 12 March, the European Parliament rejected a regulation delegated to the Commission concerning the new definition of nanomaterials. This definition does not take into account nano-additives placed on the market before 2011, which could result in an exemption from obligatory labelling for foods containing nano-additives, which are not covered by the definition.