Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
European Committee Debates
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 1st February 2011|
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
European Committee Debates
Animal Cloning for Food Production
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Alison Groves, Committee Clerk
† attended the CommitteeThe following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): We usually make a statement at the beginning of such Committees. There are several members of the European Scrutiny Committee here, but we have not been given a statement on this occasion, so I assume that we shall not be making a statement today.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. In the circumstances, I shall therefore make a brief statement on behalf of the Committee without the prerequisites to which he referred.
Today, the Committee is considering a European Union document in the form of a report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on animal cloning for food, as opposed to animal cloning for research purposes. As members of the Committee will have gathered, the document we have been given raises issues on animal welfare and related ethical matters, and the European Scrutiny Committee considered that in view of the public interest in such matters, it was a suitable document for debate with which to gauge the opinions of hon. Members.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): Thank you, Mrs Brooke. This is the first time that I have served in Committee under your chairmanship, which I am pleased to do, and I welcome you to the Chair. This is also the first time that I have taken part in a European Committee debate from the Government side of the room. Having held the Opposition post for some years, asking questions on such matters, I am on the other side of the fence. I shall certainly do my best to answer questions in due course.
I shall start with a matter that is relevant, particularly in light of the comments that we have just heard. The issue is in a state of flux. Obviously, we are happy to discuss Government policy and, indeed, the European proposals, but I emphasise that there is dispute between the European Parliament, which has adopted one position; the Commission, which has adopted another; and the European Council of Ministers, which has not adopted
Although I shall obviously discuss the viewpoint that the Government have taken on the subject, I emphasise that it is still far from settled as to where, if anywhere, the issue will be resolved before any legislative proposal comes forward. The Commission published its report on 19 October. It is a useful summary of all the issues relating to cloning for food production. The key points are that the Commission recommends a five-year suspension on cloning, and food from clones. I stress that that is just the food from the clone itself, rather than its descendants. The Commission also recommends new requirements to enable the industry to set up a voluntary traceability system, which would involve making it clear whether imported semen and embryos were derived from cloned animals.
As the Committee will see from the motion, the view of the Government is that a ban is unnecessary and that a ban should be introduced only when there are compelling reasons. We take the view that such regulation should be based on sound science, and that it should be risk-based and proportionate. All the scientific advice that we have received is that there is no case for the suspension or five-year ban. However people want to phrase it, that would be the impact of the proposal and it would be disproportionate.
One of the main reasons for that advice is that cloning is a new science, especially when applied to animals farmed for food production. It is advancing very quickly, and to ban it for five years would be to ignore any developments that might occur in those five years and how some of the issues, which I am sure we will discuss in a few minutes, might be resolved, perhaps well short of those five years. Therefore, we do not believe that there is a case for it. We also need to be mindful of the Foresight report that was published last week by the Government’s chief scientific officer and not close our minds to new technology.
The main reason why many people are justifiably and understandably concerned about cloning relates to animal welfare, which has already been touched on. There are welfare implications to cloning, and we fully recognise that. However, as far as this country is concerned, we think that our welfare legislation is adequate to deal with any such problems. We also believe that if problems arise with any animal, those responsible for the animal must take the necessary action to deal with them. Cloning technology is, as I have said, advancing very quickly, and the welfare aspects are also improving all the time. I stress that we accept that there are some welfare issues, but existing legislation, primarily the Animal Welfare Act 2006, contains a duty to care, and makes it an offence to cause any captive animal unnecessary suffering or fail to provide for the welfare needs of the animal. On top of that, the Committee will be aware of the regulations on the welfare of farmed animals in England, which implement the EU framework directive, which is highly relevant here. It states:
This provision shall not preclude the use of certain procedures likely to cause minimal or momentary suffering or injury, or which might necessitate interventions which would not cause lasting injury, where these are allowed by national provisions.”
“No animal shall be kept for farming purposes unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept without detrimental effect on its health or welfare.”
The Government argue strongly that there is no need for further regulation. We think that cloning and its welfare consequences, or potential consequences, are covered by the provisions to which I have just referred. That is why we need to look at existing regulation and check that the EU regulation can deal with those problems. We believe it can.
By way of a brief introduction, I would like to refer to food safety. I need to stress that the matter is covered by the Food Standards Agency. Under the EU Novel Foods Regulation, food from non-traditionally bred animals must be approved before it can be marketed, and we have already had debates in the House and a Select Committee discussion on the subject. Cloning is clearly not a traditional breeding technique, and therefore comes under the scope of that regulation. There was debate, when the matter cropped up last autumn, on whether the issue is just about the food from clones themselves, or about food from the offspring of clones. Cloning, to the best of our knowledge, is not taking place in the UK. Indeed, we are not aware of any company offering a cloning service in the EU. The FSA and the European Food Safety Authority have advised that for cattle and pigs, which is where the work is going on, current evidence suggests that meat and milk from healthy clones or their offspring are as safe as those from traditionally bred animals. That view, published in November, was supported by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. On 7 December, the FSA announced that it was minded to amend its advice. Initially, the advice had been that food from all the descendants of clones in perpetuity should be covered by the Novel Foods Regulation, but on 7 December the FSA proposed to exclude offspring; in other words, the advice will relate only to the clones themselves.
The Chair: We have until 5.30 for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief. I will call the Opposition spokesman to ask up to three questions. As we go round, I will take supplementary questions if it makes sense to do so, but otherwise we will continue until questions are exhausted.
Last week, I was privileged to visit the European Parliament in Brussels and to speak to many of its Members about agricultural issues, and particularly about cloning. I am aware of the profound passions and concern of Members of the European Parliament, and that reflects the interests of their constituents and ours.
Why do we disagree on the five years and on traceability? The purpose of my opening remarks was to explain that. I am sorry if I was not clear. The science of cloning is moving so fast that temporarily to suspend or ban cloning in the EU for five years would be disproportionate, bearing in mind the advance of science. We cannot see what changes or improvements may arise in the next one, two or three years, but they might resolve some of the welfare problems about which people are concerned, and this is a welfare issue.
To pick up the hon. Gentleman’s earlier comment about his discussions with Members of the European Parliament, I readily accept that there are many views in the European Parliament and some of them, certainly in discussions that I have had, relate to ethics. In this country, we do not have ethical legislation, except on human fertilisation and embryology, so I cannot address the ethical issue.
I am sorry if I was not clear on traceability. We do not have the facilities for it. What is proposed is a voluntary approach requiring semen and embryos from cloned animals to be identified on import certificates, which would be possible. Clearly, it would be voluntary, and we are not desperately against any voluntary agreement that people want to implement, but I have to say that it would be technically very difficult. The proposal becomes more difficult in that it would require that the cloned status of the parent be included on pedigree certificates. That prompts the whole question of where we go from there, because any subsequent information system would not deal with the offspring of clones that may already be in the EU. We know that there are clones in the EU. To the best of our knowledge, cloning is not going on in the EU, but clones have come in, primarily from America. Certainly the ones in the UK have come from the United States.
We do not have any means of dealing with imported food derived from animals with clones in their ancestry. If it was simply dealt with on the import certificates, it would be relatively straightforward. If it is a voluntary scheme, of course, we do not need agreement; people can do it anyway. The Government’s view is that we do not see what that would achieve on its own. To go beyond that to a full-scale traceability system would be disproportionate and unnecessary, bearing in mind the points that I have already made about food safety. The requirement to add information to pedigree certificates would need an amendment to legislation, which would make it more complicated. I hope that is helpful.
Mr Bain: On the review clause after five years, according to the Commission document, its purpose is to ascertain and gain the science and additional research to which the Minister referred. As he pointed out earlier, the principal concern is not about food safety, with which
Mr Paice: I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not wise to start bandying about our colleagues’ voting procedures in the European Parliament. I can match every one of his examples the other way round, so we will not play that game. However, he makes an important point, and picking a period of time is precisely the problem. I do not pretend to be an expert scientist and highly knowledgeable about where science is on cloning technology, and I venture to suggest nor is the hon. Gentleman. I do not mean that offensively, but I expect that that is the case. We do not know what technological development may be around the corner, or what may happen within days, weeks or months. Yet if we have banned it for five years, we have lost it for five years, and we may lose out by not being able to take that advance forward. The point is that it is only by scientific trial, test and analysis that we move a scientific technique forward. What the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting is that if we banned it for five years, we would be entirely dependent on the science and technology continuing to take place in the United States or somewhere else—not in Europe—and then we would benefit if the science has advanced in five years’ time. That is the wrong approach. We should be prepared to say that if companies in Europe want to move forward with cloning and develop the science here, they should be enabled to do so, particularly, I stress, as we believe that the animal welfare issues are covered. Companies would be discouraged from taking a step too far in scientific research if they risked being prosecuted under the welfare legislation.
Mr Bain: The Minister will be aware that under the EC treaty, as amended by the treaty of Amsterdam, animals are recognised as sentient beings for the purposes of EU law. Again, why does the Minister believe that a policy of having no review period and no moratorium is the best way of discharging the responsibility that member states and European institutions have towards such ethical questions?
Food labelling is connected with the ethics, the science and the traceability system. Is the Minister aware that his Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament, together with other Members in that Chamber, have addressed concerns about food labelling? They are urging further regulation, to ensure that the country of origin of cloned products—perhaps America, Brazil or Argentina—is dealt with. What is his response?
Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman introduces the word “ethical”—he looks askance, but he has just challenged me about a moratorium on an ethical question. That is not what we are talking about. Yes, I fully accept that cloning raises ethical issues, but we have no legislation on ethical questions on which to base any decisions.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman’s earlier question was about a moratorium on the science, based on issues of animal welfare, to which he rightly referred and
My argument is that science is moving forward all the time and we should, therefore, have an ongoing dialogue with the science profession about how to address the issues. If, on the animal welfare front, scientists took an unnecessary risk—I read out the European regulation earlier—and actively put at risk the welfare of either the cloned individual or its surrogate mother, they would risk prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act. Therefore, it is for scientists to judge how they are taking that forward.
The hon. Gentleman then brought in a second issue—relevant, but totally different—namely, labelling. Much of the debate about food labelling in this country has involved the offspring of clones, but he referred to food from clones themselves. We have to draw a distinction. At the moment food from clones would require permission under the Novel Foods Regulation and, currently, it is banned. No food from clones—from America, Argentina or anywhere else in the world—can come into our market, so the issue of labelling does not arise. It does not arise because the practice is banned.
Labelling comes up if some food from the offspring of clones has gone into the food chain—as we all know, that has happened, albeit accidentally. I know the hon. Gentleman is not on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but we had a long debate on the problem with labelling, which the Committee is looking into.
Such legislation cannot be enforced, because all the scientific advice we have suggests that there is no way of identifying whether a particular piece of meat or milk, for instance, has come from the offspring of a clone. The genetic make-up of such meat clearly does not identify any differently from that of ordinary meat—similarly with milk or other dairy products. Therefore, labelling would be impossible to enforce, even if regulation were in place.
Has the Minister had any discussion with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons? Would he do so, if at any point in the future it expressed concern about animal welfare? My impression is that some of the practices are invasive, in particular to the dam of a cloned animal. Embryo transfer is common in the livestock industry, but my understanding is that cloning technologies are more invasive than embryo transfer. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons? Is he satisfied that current animal welfare legislation is sufficient to ensure no welfare breaches?
In addition, I hope that the Minister recognises that any animal’s value is fundamentally attached to its traceability, so the livestock industry is keen to ensure that that is fully in place. I do not regard traceability as
Mr Spencer: I will be quiet, then. How large would the gene pool remain if the industry were to go down the cloning route? Will the Minister be in a position to influence that matter as we move forward? I am sure that I have abused my position, but I thank you for your patience, Mrs Brooke.
Mr Paice: I have not had any discussions with the RCVS, but there is guidance for vets on artificial breeding techniques. Vets are required to ensure that there are sound and acceptable reasons for using the invasive technique. My understanding is that cloning is not as invasive as my hon. Friend believes it to be; I might have got that wrong. Certainly, it is an embryo transfer procedure, which is no different from the embryo transfer that is now commonplace in agriculture, as he rightly said. I understand cloning creation involves a laboratory procedure from a few cells, but I do not know precisely how invasive such a procedure is. I assure him, however, that the guidance for vets already covers that.
On possible breaches of animal welfare, I must be honest and say that I can never be satisfied that nobody will break the law at some stage—that is why the law is there. I am satisfied, however, that it is adequate to deal with such breaches if necessary.
On traceability, my hon. Friend is quite right—genetics are a very important part of modern livestock breeding. People are anxious, therefore, to be able to trace high- quality animals back. I suggest, however, that that does not guarantee that all the offspring of a clone will always automatically be traceable. First, with cattle, for example, there is no facility to mention cloning on the cattle passport. Secondly, at some stage offspring become commercial—they go into the meat chain or are simply used to produce milk, at which point their ancestry may be a lot less identifiable, particularly if they are only a steer. There are no passports with pigs, so there is not even a paper trail to follow to identify their parentage.
I have no knowledge about the impact on the size of the gene pool were cloning to become commonplace. It will be a long while before that happens, so there is time to work that out. Cloning could be advantageous in situations where gene pools have become very small, particularly with some of the rare breeds. It would allow us to reproduce an animal that is incapable of natural reproduction. For example, if someone unwittingly castrated a male of good blood lines, those lines could be recreated via a cloning process. That could also apply to a female who was, perhaps, too old for reproduction. There is a potential link to the gene pool, but I cannot answer my hon. Friend’s particular question.
Kelvin Hopkins: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship for the first time, Mrs Brooke. I understand that the EFSA has highlighted important welfare issues on surrogate cattle dams suffering from late gestational
Mr Paice: The honest answer is that, yes, we should be concerned about it. I was at pains in my earlier remarks to make clear that I am concerned about it. I am arguing that, first, we believe that our existing animal welfare legislation would deal with the issues identified by EFSA, to which the hon. Gentleman rightly refers, and, secondly, that the scientists developing the technology of cloning are trying to address those issues themselves, which is why I do not believe that a permanent ban or five-year suspension of the technology is in the long-term interests of advancing the science.
Kelvin Hopkins: We understand from the same source that cloning gives rise to large offspring syndrome, which is a common problem in cattle and sheep clones, but not in pigs. That is an abnormality. There is another possibility of underlying frailties, which do not show until the animal becomes stressed in later life. Should we not be concerned about those things, because they suggest that cloning is not such a good idea?
Mr Paice: They are certainly issues that we would be concerned about. The Committee should not be in any doubt that the Government share those concerns. The discussion and debate between us is whether those concerns are best addressed by banning the technology for five years, or by the technology continuing to develop and advance, backed up by the heavy regulatory operating system under existing animal welfare legislation, under which the science would be done. I suspect that most, if not all—I do not wish to use a crystal ball—the problems that the hon. Gentleman has rightly identified will be resolved by the advancement of the technology. They will not be resolved if we just stop it today. There are many potential benefits from using cloning technology in agriculture and that is why our position is that we should continue to allow the science to progress, to see whether those benefits are achievable.
Mr Clappison: May I, too, say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Brooke? How does the Minister see this matter proceeding in the European Union and what does he envisage as the possible consequences of the Commission’s policy, which he has enunciated in this report?
Mr Paice: It is a brave Minister who prophesies how any European negotiations will progress. As I said in my opening remarks to the Committee and to my hon. Friend, the European Parliament has taken a very robust position on the subject. It wants cloning stopped and it wants the use of clones for food and their offspring stopped. It wants the full works. The Council of Ministers has not yet formally debated the issue in open council. The working parties under it—our civil servants—are discussing the issue, and there are a multitude of different opinions. The European Commission is the author of the document that we are discussing.
The precise situation is that there will be a meeting of the working party tomorrow to start the conciliation process. After that, it is difficult to foresee what eventualities will come out of it. Perhaps I should not speculate, but it is possible that this will not go down as a decision of the Council. It is possible that a compromise will be reached. As my hon. Friend is aware—he makes a study of these things—trying to thrash out a solution when there are polarised views from 27 different countries takes a long time. I do not know what the final outcome is likely to be.
Mr Clappison: I appreciate the Minister’s good answer, which comes on top of earlier good answers to all the technical points. However, if a temporary ban were to be enforced by the European Union, how would it be enforced? Would it be enforced by legislation, and if so, on what legislative basis?
Mr Paice: I do not say that the ban will not come in because, as I have suggested, that is a matter of negotiation between the various parties. If the ban does come in, it would have to be followed by some regulatory approach, although I do not know precisely under what legal basis that would happen. The Novel Foods Regulation is obviously part of that, but I am afraid I cannot tell my hon. Friend whether that could be used as the vehicle, or whether a freestanding piece of regulation would be required. I may get some advice on that matter to pass on in a few moments.
The reverse situation—which is just as likely—is that no progress is made at all and the Commission’s proposal does not lead to legislation. In the absence of more specific EU legislation, the amended Novel Foods Regulation would apply, assuming that it is adopted. In the eventuality that there is no agreement on the current proposal, the existing Novel Foods Regulations will continue to apply. That requires pre-market authorisation of food that is produced from cloned animals.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. As ever, the Minister is knowledgeable on these issues. He speaks with great authority and has clearly made the case for research to continue. However, the Commission is arguing for scientific research to continue, but not for anything to go into the food chain—there would be a moratorium on products entering the food chain. Surely that is a sensible position, considering everybody’s concern to get the legislation right.
Nic Dakin: I recognise, as does the Minister, that there are genuine concerns about animal welfare. If the legislation continues in the direction of travel that the Government seek, in addition to having confidence
Mr Paice: I am sure the answer to that must be yes; we try to monitor all developing pictures in agriculture. To the best of our knowledge, no cloning work is going on in this country, so there is nothing to monitor in terms of legal responsibility. My officials have as much access to what is going on in other European countries as anybody else, and if anything comes to light we will keep it closely under review. I believe that is the right way forward, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that were there to be a development in cloning technology that went in the wrong direction from the one I have spelt out, that would cause us to think again about our position. I have no doubt that other countries will take the same view if they continue to progress as they have. We must be realistic and honest. Not many years ago, the vast majority of clones failed even to implant in surrogate mothers, let alone to go on to have the issues that we have discussed. I think that the science will continue to develop, but the answer is that we will, of course, continue what is going on elsewhere.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Brooke. This is an interesting subject, and I thank the Minister for his reasonable answers. Does he believe that cloning is harmful to animals? I draw his attention to page 3 of the Commission’s report, which endorses the European Food Safety Authority’s opinion:
Mr Paice: Of course I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point. As he rightly says, it is sitting there on page 3. I recognise fully that cloning involves potential animal health and welfare issues. As I tried to explain earlier, the legislative base on which this country operates in terms of animal welfare is the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007. If somebody undertook cloning tomorrow, they would be expected to do so in the full knowledge of that welfare legislation.
Like a lot of animal welfare legislation, I am afraid, the only point of prosecution occurs after somebody has clearly breached it. We cannot use legislation to prevent someone from ill-treating their dog; we can only act under legislation after they have done so. Equally, if someone proceeded with the cloning process and found that most or all of the offspring were clearly suffering from welfare problems—over-enlarged foetuses, as the hon. Member for Luton North mentioned, or high levels of dead foetuses—clearly, they would be at risk of prosecution under the legislation. Therefore, such people should not proceed unless they believe that they will not create welfare problems and that the majority of cloned offspring will be all right.
While I am on my feet, I should correct something that I said earlier. I am afraid that I misled the hon. Member for Glasgow North East by reading out only the Commission’s proposal about food-producing animals. Apparently, the Commission is proposing an exemption for research. I apologise. The Commission is also proposing exemptions for the purposes of producing pharmaceuticals and conserving endangered species, a point to which I have referred. I am sorry to have misadvised him.
Graham Jones: The Minister tried to give an answer, but does he not agree that it was a retrospective answer? He said that the measures will facilitate cloning, and that the legal process under the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 will kick in to place a duty of care on breeders. However, is that not a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted? I return to the essential point.
Mr Paice: I follow entirely the hon. Gentleman’s argument, which is perfectly reasonable, but I would say to him that scientists working on cloning are not working in isolation in their own little laboratories without talking to anybody else. All this leading-edge science is widely communicated through the scientific community and, therefore, scientific advances, which are happening all the time, will be pretty readily communicated throughout the scientific community. Although it is perfectly correct for him to have read out those statistics from the top of page 4 of the report, I would argue that a time span of 11 years is a long period in terms of scientific advance. The report says that 55% of those animals died shortly after birth. I wonder how many of them died early on in that 11-year period and whether it was a level proportion or whether the proportion dying at birth changed. We do not know—the information is not there—but I would argue that, as science advances, information and the latest technology and techniques are transmitted between scientists. I believe that, as with most scientific endeavour, the science in this sector is moving forward all the time, which is my fundamental reason for opposing the five-year ban.
To return to the issue of research, obviously, from what I have said, it is clear that I believe the research should continue. My reading of the report, having corrected myself, is that, yes, it clearly says that cloning should be allowed to continue for research, but not for food-producing animals. We are talking about research on food-producing animals. I am not 100% certain precisely what the Commission is proposing in that fine detail, but the point is that we need to move on. That is why we oppose the ban; we think it disproportionately long.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): We are returning to the point about the Minister’s notion of 100% certainty and what “research” actually means. It clearly states in the European Commission’s report that
and so on. That raises the question, if the research is on a food animal, such as a cow, is it research or food production? This is purely a subjective comment, but I am simply raising the question whether research on a food animal would be exempt. However, I would suggest that the point is fairly immaterial.
Mr Paice: I do not think that I can add much to what I have already said. We believe that the five-year ban would be disproportionate, given our current state of knowledge of the development of this science. Also, if there is a ban, even if the research allowed was to make a tremendous step forward in 12 months’ time, we would then have to go—if we could—through the panoply of unbanning research. I believe that to be totally disproportionate and unnecessary.
The Chair: We are beginning to get a little repetitive, so I see no reason to extend time for questions. However, I had suggested that I would return to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, if he wishes me to do so.
Mr Bain: The key question that I would bring to the Minister’s attention is, if the Commission is proposing that research on this technology can continue so that no one will be left behind in its development, but the only thing that will be regulated is its use in the food chain, and that that will be for a limited period of up to five years, what is disproportionate about that? If five years is too long, what period do the Government believe to be proportionate for any temporary restriction?
Mr Paice: I am afraid that I shall not be drawn on any particular period, because that would be wrong. We should accept that the science is developing—whatever the rights and wrongs in the debate about whether research on food animals should be exempt, the fact is that the science will continue to develop. None of us can foresee how fast it will develop or at what point we
Many people—some of the MEPs to whom the hon. Gentleman referred earlier—are probably opposing the proposal on ethical grounds and believe that five years is not enough; they would probably prefer 50. That is why I think that once we start choosing a period, we fall into a hole. If I can use this analogy, an organisation has been proposing a five-year moratorium on genetically modified foods and technology for at least the past 10 years, if not 15. We have probably had two or three five-year moratoriums, during which time, as we know, the science in that context has moved on. That underlines why choosing a period is not the right approach.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 15277/10, a report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on animal cloning for food production; and supports the Government’s view that a ban or temporary suspension on cloning, the use of clones and the marketing of food from clones is disproportionate in terms of food safety and animal welfare. [9th Report of Session 2010-11, HC 428-ix, Chapter 1].—(Mr Paice.)
Mr Bain: The view of the Opposition is that the Government should address the Commission report more profoundly. If they are of the view that a five-year moratorium is disproportionate, they should explain what period would be proportionate. Only one European Union country—Denmark—has introduced any regulation at all in this area, so, in effect, the other member states have a moratorium on the use of this technology in the food chain.
Mr Clappison: The hon. Gentleman says that the Government must address the Commission’s report. Do we take it from that that the Opposition’s policy is to support the temporary ban and the Commission’s report?
Mr Bain: We believe that the Government should be much clearer than they have been in the document that they produced for this Committee. They have simply described the Commission’s proposal as disproportionate and left it at that. They must address the serious concerns expressed by MEPs—indeed, Conservative Members, as I said earlier—who are of the view that a ban or a moratorium is not in itself enough. They would support mandatory food labelling requirements for the progeny of cloned animals.
Significant concerns about the issue have been raised by constituents across the country and the Government should be far clearer about their position. They should be willing to negotiate with mainstream Europe, noting the opinion of the institutions and, indeed, of member states. That is why we would encourage them, in their discussions at the Council, to reach an effective compromise with the European Parliament, based on the work of the Commission. If they have proposals that build upon those of the Commission or are different from them, based on science and proper evidence, we shall look forward to hearing them.
As the Minister knows, I have not engaged in knee-jerk opposition to suggestions from his Department, but have taken a scientific approach to all matters that he and I have discussed. However, I am not satisfied with the responses given in the memorandum and the Opposition will oppose the motion.
Kelvin Hopkins: I strongly support my hon. Friend, but would go further. Until recently, I was under the impression that cloning produced what could be considered identical twins, but it seems from what we have learned today that that is not the case. I am more concerned about cloning now than I was previously; my worries about it have been reinforced. There are problems with the animals concerned, and death and distress are involved.
How much transparency are we seeing? I am not sure that I would be terribly confident about research done in other countries. We have not been given clear statistics today about the number of animals that survive, and the number that are not exactly cloned, but are not entirely the same as the animals that they are cloned with. There are also animal welfare concerns.
Although I am a meat-eater, I am concerned above all about animal welfare. Things are not perfect in Britain, but we are in many ways ahead of the world when it comes to regulations on animal welfare, and I want that to continue and to be strengthened. I buy British-produced meat because I am not convinced that meat from abroad is produced under the same beneficial conditions. I have a personal prejudice—a personal preference—for British-produced meat, and it is based on animal welfare grounds. Some make a case for vegetarianism that is based on the effect of meat production on the environment, the production of carbon and so on. Perhaps we should eat rather less meat; it could be helpful in many ways.
The EU has taken a proper stand on the question. I would go as far as the Danes, which is beyond what the Opposition suggest, but I would certainly lean in that direction. By taking a stand, we can wake up the rest of the world to our concerns. Britain is a big market for imported meat. We could say that we want to know about all meat that has been cloned: whether it is descended from cloned animals or whether cloned animal has been used in the meat, we want it to be labelled as such. People such as me could then choose not to buy cloned meat, which would put pressure on overseas producers. We could do the same with animal welfare and across the range.
We want to ensure that animals are treated humanely throughout the world, not only in Britain. To do that, we would require certain standards before importing the meat and consuming it. Supermarkets are big purchasers of meat. They have enormous buying power. If they said, “Our customers don’t like cloned animals and don’t like animals that are not treated fairly before being slaughtered for consumption,” they would not buy it. I hope that the supermarkets will take this up and that pressure will be put on producers throughout the world in all sorts of ways.
I am sufficiently concerned about the matter to support my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East in opposing the Government’s motion and to support the European Union moratorium on cloning for commercial purposes—where profit is concerned.
Clearly, if a small number of rare breeds are helped to continue by cloning, that is very different. If there is a little scientific research, that is another factor. However, what we are considering is mass cloning for commercial use. I would like a permanent ban on that, but a moratorium for five years is at least reasonable. It means that the rest of the world will have to demonstrate that animals are not being mistreated and that animal welfare concerns are being met. It also means that, as far as possible, we shall make sure that whatever meat we eat is produced humanely, with animal welfare concerns to the fore.
Mr Clappison: As ever, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton North. I strongly agree with his comment that we have high animal welfare standards, an excellent agricultural sector and many conscientious and caring British farmers, producing high-quality produce.
The Minister has, in this short debate, fully addressed the questions that have been put to him, and the policy issues. He has set out a clear Government policy line, on which he deserves to be congratulated. I cannot think of anything else that he could do to be clear on the matter, or to address the issues in a fuller way. People should be clear about where they stand on the issue, and the Minister has been clear about that. I say that as someone who in the previous Parliament trooped through the Lobby with the then Government, on the question of animal cloning techniques for medical research. I recollect that in some Divisions there were not many Members other than members of the Government in the Lobby to support them. I was happy to do so.
I am happy with the Minister’s responses and policy line. What concerns me more is the way in which the European Union has become seized of the issue. Some things that I have heard about the debate in the European Parliament give me some concern, as does the fact that the Commission has taken it on itself to launch the initiative in the first place. I am concerned that it may result in informal proposals. The Minister rightly said that that is all yet to be negotiated, but there is certainly a possibility. The Government’s explanatory memorandum seems to envisage that possibility; it is certainly possible that the Commission will present a formal proposal.
I am concerned about the procedure that will be followed when that happens—when a proposal comes before the Council of Ministers and possibly the European Parliament, as part of the Community method. I should be concerned if it were to come within a legislative base, as I think it may well do, involving qualified majority voting, so that the clear line set out by the Government, and the clear wish that they have expressed as the democratically elected Government of this country, could be outvoted by other member states. We would then have a European Commission-generated policy that we did not want, and which was contrary to our Government’s wishes, foisted on us. The Minister has been so clear today that no amount of fudging in the future would be able to conceal that, and we would have a very unsatisfactory outcome.
I would like to pause to question what we are doing here, why we are dealing with the matter and what business it is of the European Commission. We have our own Government and our own policy, based on
Mr Paice: I thank hon. Members for their comments. I shall start by replying to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere. I said earlier that I was not aware of the legal base on which any proposal would be put forward. I can now tell him that it would be under article 43 of the treaty, which I think he is correct in assuming would be a majority voting issue. I have a lot of understanding of and sympathy with his points about why we are considering the matter at all, but of course food safety and animal welfare are European competences and that is why we must deal with them in this way.
My hon. Friend rightly agreed with the hon. Member for Luton North about Britain’s animal welfare standards and reputation, and I stand four-square with him and the hon. Gentleman. We have extremely high welfare standards, and as the Minister with responsibility for these issues, I am not prepared to see a diminution of them. However, all animal welfare should be guided by science and all the evidence we have: it should not be guided by emotion, which sometimes guides some people’s comments. I am not referring to the hon. Member for Luton North, because I have far too much regard for him to suggest that.
As I say, we need to be guided by science. That brings me back to the question raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East about why the Government persist in opposing the Commission’s suggestion, which is all it is at present. The reason is that we do not believe that there is the scientific evidence to support a five-year ban, moratorium, temporary suspension or however we might wish to describe it. We have not had an impact assessment yet, and one would come forward only in the case of a legal proposal. There is not sufficient evidence to justify the ban.
Graham Jones: The Minister says there is insufficient evidence, but I return to my two questions. Does he not consider that the animal welfare issues raised in the report are of serious enough concern to warrant some sort of temporary ban?
Mr Paice: I agree entirely that they are of serious concern, but I do not believe that there is the evidence in the report to justify a ban. The hon. Gentleman quoted to me the figures—I fully accept that they are unsatisfactory—from the evidence in Japan. They run from 1998 to 2009, and the technology has moved on dramatically in that time. I have not seen the detailed figures, but I would be prepared to make a personal wager that the results in 1998 were far different from those at the other end of the timetable.
Kelvin Hopkins: I mentioned statistics in my speech, and it would have been helpful if we had had some evidence to back up the Minister’s belief that things have improved. Does he not think that we should have some statistics?
Mr Paice: I concur with the hon. Gentleman. I want to pick up a couple of the other points that he made. He said that cloning does not produce identical twins, but I should tell him that, genetically, it does produce identical twins. However, the welfare issues that he and others have highlighted are to do not with the animal’s genetics—that is what a clone is about—but with other issues, and I certainly do not pretend to know the full details of why there is sometimes a tendency, as he said, towards enlarged foetuses. However, scientists are working to overcome those problems.
The hon. Gentleman talked about food labelling. The Government feel very strongly about proper labelling and about consumers having proper information so that they can choose properly, but I also strongly believe in enforceable law, and there is no point bringing in legislation that cannot be properly enforced. When I talked about labelling food from the offspring of clones, my point was that it would be impossible properly to enforce such a measure. We could argue that such a provision is disproportionate because there is no evidence that such food is any different from any other food in food safety terms. However, the fundamental point is that such meat and dairy products are identical in composition to any other meat and dairy products, so we could not enforce such provisions.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East kept on about the voting record of Conservative MEPs. I suggest that he lets me worry about my party’s MEPs and that he worries about his own sometimes. He also urged me to negotiate with those who hold what he called the mainstream views in Europe. I can assure him that in the period of conciliation, which runs for two months and starts tomorrow with a meeting of the permanent representatives, we will be very much negotiating clearly with all the other organisations and viewpoints. The
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 15277/10, a report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on animal cloning for food production; and supports the Government’s view that a ban or temporary suspension on cloning, the use of clones and the marketing of food from clones is disproportionate in terms of food safety and animal welfare. [9th Report of Session 2010-11, HC 428-ix, Chapter IJ.]
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 1st February 2011|