BRUSSELS Talks within the European Union broke down on Tuesday over how to deal with food from cloned animals, sending EU proposals on the sale of new types of foods back to the drawing board after three years of debate.
Following all-night negotiations in Brussels, EU lawmakers were ready to drop their demand for a ban on the sale of food from the conventionally bred offspring of cloned animals, in return for mandatory labeling for all such products.
But EU governments rejected the compromise and said it risked dragging the 27-nation bloc into a "full blown trade war" with countries that already export food products derived from the young of cloned animals, such as the United States.
"The European Parliament ... tried to push the (European) Council to accept a misleading, unfeasible 'solution' that in practice would have required drawing a family tree for each slice of cheese or salami," said Hungary's farm minister Sandor Fazakas.
Hungary, which chaired the showdown talks as holder of the EU's rotating presidency, said it had been ready to accept a ban on the use of cloning for food production in Europe and "the gradual introduction of labeling" for products from the offspring of clones.
But failure to reach an agreement means the proposals on regulating so-called "novel foods," which are defined as foodstuffs not consumed significantly in the EU before 1997, must be redrafted, and could take "several more years" to finalize, Hungary said.
The European Parliament's negotiators in the talks accused EU governments of ignoring public opinion, citing a 2008 consumer survey that showed that 58 percent of Europeans believed cloning should never be used for food production.
"We made a huge effort to compromise, but we were not willing to betray consumers on their right to know whether food comes from animals bred using clones," lawmakers Gianni Pittella and Kartika Liotard said in a joint statement.
The use of cloning for food production is not currently widespread in Europe.
The United States is the most advanced country in terms of cloning for food production, with estimates provided by companies suggesting that "thousands of cattle" and "hundreds of pigs" have been cloned there so far.
The United States currently has a voluntary moratorium on the marketing of food from cloned animals but not from their offspring.
Animal cloning, which uses DNA transfer to create an exact genetic copy of an animal, currently has a success rate below 20 percent, with most cloned animals dying during or shortly after birth.
The technique is complex and costly, ensuring that cloned animals are unlikely to be used themselves as food, but they can be bred traditionally to produce offspring that share similar traits, such as high milk production or rapid growth.
The EU's executive -- the European Commission -- is now expected to propose separate regulation to control the use of cloning in Europe, as well as new proposals on novel foods, which includes the use of nanotechnology in food production.
(Editing by Rex Merrifield and Jane Baird)