The National Beef Association is calling for a new code to be added to cattle documentation to ensure cloned animals and their offspring can be identified and traced easily.

In the wake of news that 'cloned meat' had entered the UK food chain, the NBA told The Grocer this week that it intended to write to Defra and the FSA proposing that a 'CL' code be added to animal passports and export health certificates for cloned animals and their first-generation offspring.

Under current EU rules, all cattle have to be issued with passports, but there is no legal requirement to identify animals as clones or their offspring on the passport itself or any other documents. The UK government has no formal documented means of tracing them. To identify the clones' offspring this month, the FSA therefore had to rely on cattle breed societies which only provide records for pedigrees.

Before a mandatory clone identifier could be added to cattle passports, there would need to be consensus across the EU and beyond as to how many generations of offspring should be identified, said the NBA.

The FSA argues that all generations of cloned animals are "novel foods", but the European Commission and some member states disagree. "What we need to decide across the board is: what is the code for clones?" added NBA director Kim-Marie Haywood.

Defra said the UK could opt for a voluntary code but warned this would create extra cost and might be of limited practical use. "A passport not marked as belonging to a clone or its offspring could still belong to a cloned animal, so would provide no additional help in tracing," it said, adding it was the responsibility of food companies to ensure products from clones did not enter the food chain.

NFU chief lifestock adviser John Mercer said it was important to consider the options but "we don't want a kneejerk reaction that adds another layer of bureaucracy".

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