Given Defra was warned in 2008 about products derived from cloned animals, why was action not taken? And what happens now, asks Richard Ford

So now it's veal. After the revelations that beef from the offspring of a clone had entered the food chain, the FSA confirmed this week that a male calf (the progeny of offspring of a cloned cow) had been slaughtered on 16 June and meat from this animal had also been eaten.

Whether there's a food safety risk or not, the fact is that it should never have happened. As we reveal in our story on p32, the RSPCA wrote to Lord Rooker then a Defra minister in 2008, warning that the inadequacies of the current ­regime for tracing these animals would render it impossible "to ­ensure that any products derived from them do not enter the food chain without prior approval and applicable labelling."

So why wasn't anything done? And given the devastating impact any dent in consumer trust is likely to have in the current market, what should be done?

The big problem with the existing system is that the introduction of foodstuffs derived from cloned animals or their offspring into the food chain is covered by the Novel Foods Regulation but there is no legal requirement to identify animals as clones or their offspring - the system relies on producer knowledge of the law and honesty.

In this instance, one or both was missing. As the FSA said when the news broke, it had not received any applications under the Regulation. To compound matters, current EU import rules don't require any documentation on whether animals, embryos or animal products are clones or clone offspring.

In short, the procedures in place are not up to the job. The ongoing saga is "ironic", says David Bowles, director of communications at the RSPCA, as it shows just how effectively the Novel Foods Regulation whose implementation over the 27 EU member states is currently under review is working in the UK. "The answer," he says, is "not very well at all."

"There is no magic book at the FSA which you can look at and find out where they are," he says. If there were such a book, "it would be empty because no one's made an application," admits an FSA spokswoman ruefully.

If the FSA seems in the dark with regards to the existence of products derived from these animals, lack of explicit regulation means Defra is just as unsure. Defra was "caught on the hop," claims one dairy industry source. "There was a lot of scrabbling around for information when it should really have been clear."

The RSPCA claims that things must change. "What we want from the UK is some clarity. We need a decision over what we want in the Novel Foods Regulation's place, or are they happy to institute a [total] ban?" says Bowles.

Defra confirmed ministers would push for greater clarity across Europe on cloning, particularly on the question of how many generations of progeny are covered by the regulations. The European Commission is expected to issue a report on cloning later in the year.

Meanwhile, the industry is putting its own measures in place. Both First Milk and Dairy Crest, for example, have written to their dairy farmers to remind them that it is not legal for them to supply milk from these animals.

As for the FSA, it says it does not intend to conduct a broader investigation without fresh evidence of the presence of products from other such animals in the UK. It is now, however, pondering whether to disclose the identities of those involved in this particular case.

It's too little too late, argues Bowles. "This debate wasn't started by an organisation like the RSPCA, it wasn't started by the government, it was started off by an importer.

"We're in this position because an importer spoke to a newspaper. If he hadn't, we'd still be thinking the government policy that 'if we don't get told of this, nothing's happened', is working."