Send out the clones

In an environment of declining subsidies, global competitiveness is vitally important

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.

David Leyonhjelm

David Leyonhjelm

has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
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Ted O'Brien.
3/02/2014 4:13:01 AM

David, where are these declining subsidies? For nearly 30 years we have been promised declining subsidies. The promise was never honoured. In the meantime, unilateral trade reform has just about halved the number of farmers in Australia. For relevance to declining subsidies your talk of cloning takes us out to long after we are all dead.
3/02/2014 6:28:51 AM

David, good to see you are trying to be a journalist and use facts and stats in your article, now you need to try to find stats and facts relevant to the topic of your article. Maybe try to tell us why cloning is preferable to current husbandry techniques - which I'm guessing you can't? All we need from you now is an article saying free range chickens are to root of all evil and you'll have used all your material for the year, since you've already rehashed articles on why gm is good and family farmers are the devil's spawn.
3/02/2014 7:06:49 AM

CV - David is a politician, not a journalist. Like you, he can select his own facts.
3/02/2014 7:08:35 AM

Ted - I don't think you'd be happy unless every non-farmer in Australia handed over half their income to you and your mates. Even then you might whinge.
3/02/2014 7:20:36 AM

David, sometimes it's not all about money. As a veterinarian I can assure you that cloning is problematic from animal health and animal welfare perspectives. (Hence also less efficent as a result.) A ban now is appropriate. If, in time, the problems associated with cloning can be ironed out, it may be appropriate to re-visit the policy, and you will probably find EU will do so. But for now, the EU ban is good policy, and in my experience, the EU is usually a very useful model for Australia to follow because they base these decisions on science and ethics (not just economic considerations).
3/02/2014 8:18:31 AM

Mel - so the EU base their decisions on science and ethics? But their own scientific committee said there wasn't a problem, so it much be based on ethics. The obvious question then is, whose ethics?
3/02/2014 5:18:40 PM

Just another story with no relevance to the real world. I hope when you get your seat in the senate you can approach your work objectively. Your current subjective and biased opinion pieces written to suit your unusual view of the world usually are consigned straight to the dustbin of history. Those of us that live and work in the real world can do without your ignorance. Why anyone would clone as opposed to natural animal husbandry considering the very large extra costs is completely beyond me.
Ted O'Brien.
3/02/2014 6:25:45 PM

DT, seems you've been hanging around those uni pubs, too. So I'll take this opportunity you offer. I start by calling on the Australian government to set aside $1 billion to invest in restoring stability to the world trade in wool. This should be an ample sum for the job, and should be recovered plus costs including interest within two years as wool regains its feet, and starts growing again to the $15 to 20 billion industry that it is capable of being, and would already have been but for lawyers and their hangers on masquerading as economists. Then recant unilateral trade reform.
4/02/2014 8:37:12 AM

People rarely agree with more than 80% of policies from a political party they support , let alone 100% . I agree with David , Europe is not a good model to follow and i do believe that the huge debt and massive unemployment will eventually lead to the demise of the EU. When it comes to cloning i don't believe in banning anything , i believe in continued and extensive research and testing . Ethics are subjective, During the recent search for volunteers to go on a one way trip to mars to try to establish a human colony , An Imam from the mid east put a fatwa on anyone that would go! Do we not?
Farmer Joe
6/02/2014 5:50:23 AM

Reshuffling farm aid does not equal diminishing subsidies. Yet again David has reported a biased opinion of half the story to suit his own agenda. The only place with diminishing support is Australia. We endure high costs and get a rock bottom price. We pay all the freight to the farm on our inputs and pay all the freight to the end user for what we sell. All the while ag is traded off in every so called free trade agreement done so that in the end we are subsidising the benefits of these FTAs to rest of the economy. Hard to compete globally when we are carrying the nation!
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Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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