EU food safety officials will hold urgent talks to thrash out a strategy on food from cloned animals, after it emerged the calf of a cloned cow was being raised on a UK farm.
Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has asked the European Commission's Novel Foods Working Group to discuss the cow, named Dundee Paradise, at its meeting on Friday.
FSA officials sought legal advice on Wednesday after details emerged of the calf, which is the daughter of a clone living in the US.
The news drags Europe into the debate on cloned animals and their potential use in the food chain, less than two weeks after US authorities signalled they intended to approve milk and meat from clones for human consumption.
UK dairy officials and the National Farmers' Union (NFU) were keeping an open mind on Wednesday night, amid fears of a consumer backlash.
"There's no reason why there should be any risk in the milk of this animal, but we're going to have to work at this and find out what the public really thinks," Gwyn Jones, head of NFU's National Dairy Board, told DairyReporter.com.
Elements of Britain's mainstream media have already coined the term 'farmyard freaks' in reference to cloned animals. Media talk of 'Frankenstein foods' eight years ago was blamed for turning the public against genetically modified foods.
"We will be led by the consumer," said Jones. "It is important to have a measured debate in which the benefits and risks are examined in a calm way."
Optimists speculate that animal cloning may one day be used to breed a new generation of cows resistant to diseases, able to convert food more efficiently and produce more milk.
Critics say the process is not reliable enough, arguing clones are more susceptible to birth defects and premature death.
No animal health and welfare regulations had been broken by the UK farm raising Dundee Paradise, the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement.
"Any offspring from a cloned animal is considered to be the same as any other naturally born cow.
"This case refers to a cloned animal, not a genetically modified one, therefore the genetic material of the cloned animal would be an identical genetic replica of the original cow."
No separate EU laws exist to govern the import of cloned animals or embryos.
Commission officials were warned in 2005 that that animal cloning would have to be addressed in more detail.
Other countries, including the US, Japan, China and Australia were ploughing research into animal cloning, said the report, completed by the Danish Centre for Bioethics and Risk Assessment as part of the Commission's 'Cloning in Public' project.
This made it likely that products derived from animal clones would arrive in the EU at some point.
The UK FSA said any food from a cloned animal would be handled as a novel food and so require the approval of all 27 EU member states before entering the market. No applications had yet been received, it added.