THE European Commission, the EU’s administrative and policy bureaucracy, has proposed that farm animal cloning for food production be banned in the EU along with imports of cloned livestock and the sale of food from such animals.
The ban would apply to cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses. Cloning would only be allowed for research, conservation of rare breeds and endangered species, plus animals to produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Animal clones are copies created by transferring genetic material into an egg which is then implanted in a surrogate mother, who will carry and give birth to the clone. The resulting offspring are identical to their genetic origin in every respect. It is impossible to distinguish between the meat and milk from cloned and conventionally bred animals and there is no test apart from DNA matching.
The proposal needs the approval of EU governments and the European Parliament to become law. Denmark is the only member country with a current ban on the use of animal cloning for commercial purposes.
The European Food Safety Authority has assessed cloning and found that food safety for meat and milk from clones and their offspring is no different from conventionally bred animals.
The commission said it was seeking to address worries about animal welfare and other ethical concerns related to use of cloning. It claimed surveys show that most EU citizens disapprove of the use of clones for food production and do not want to eat meat from animal clones.
Cloning is currently too expensive to use for food production and there are some technical issues to overcome. Surrogate mothers used in cloning are also more likely to suffer miscarriages, difficult births and the death of newborn animals.
But that will not always be the case. Probably within a decade the most productive livestock farms in the world will be using cloning to create their breeding stock. Within two decades the animals sent to slaughter may also be cloned, and of course cloned cows have the potential to massively increase dairy industry productivity.
The EU, with a population of more than 500 million people, produces 20 per cent of the world’s pork, 11pc of its beef and accounts for 30pc of global cheese exports.
While the domestic market is its main focus, exports have a big impact on prices. In an environment of declining subsidies, global competitiveness is vitally important to its farm sector.
The EU is also in serious economic trouble. Between 2009 and 2012 the debt to GDP ratio rose from 80 to 90 per cent with public debt in 2012 reaching €8.6 trillion. Eurozone governments accounted for 49.9pc of the economy, meaning the eurozone was just 0.1pc short of being half-socialist.
Things won’t improve very soon either. A 2011 study by two Swedish economists found an increase in government size by 10 percentage points is associated with a 0.5 to 1pc lower annual growth rate.
Opinions vary as to the optimal, growth-maximising size of government but some suggest it is as low as 15pc of GDP. If Europe wants its economies to grow stronger, private industry has to expand and the government has to shrink.
But creating an environment that promotes growth and prosperity is a challenging task when the public is not willing to accept what it takes.
Unless Italy’s labour market is deregulated, Greece’s corruption curbed, Portugal’s productivity increased, France’s bureaucracy slashed and welfare limited to the genuinely needy, not much will change. And of course it needs to embrace modern technology to maintain competitiveness in global markets.
Yet there is no public acceptance of any of these reforms. Instead, the preference is to increase taxes and boost government spending, and to increase regulation of the private sector. Banning commercial cloning is a good example.
If it continues, the Europeans can look forward to decades of slow or zero growth, left behind by much of the rest of the world. Indeed, without significant change, the future may be one of genteel poverty amid historical splendour.
A ban on cloned animals for food production is of no economic significance right now, but it serves to remind us that societies sometimes make choices that have very negative long term consequences.
We should hope Australia does not view Europe as a useful model to follow.