The European Commission has proposed a five-year ban on the use of cloned animals in food production within the EU and the sale of such food.

The EU executive said today (19 October) that further assessments would be made about safety and ethics of cloning, especially in regard to animal welfare.

EU health commissioner John Dalli said: "I believe that the temporary suspension constitutes a realistic and feasible solution to respond to the present welfare concerns".

The commissioner however stressed the ban would not cover using clones in scientific research, endangered species conservation or pharmaceutical production.

His move should clear the way for the EU to approve a new regulation on novel foods. There have been calls in the European Parliament for this legislation to exclude cloned animal meat and dairy, because including it would essentially legalise these controversial products. Dalli said by suspending cloned food sales, EU ministers and MEPs could "move forward on the proposal on novel foods."

However, meat and dairy products from the offspring of cloned animals will be allowed, but given the use of their parents within the EU for food production would be banned, embryos would have to be imported. It would be subject to a monitoring programme, which could lead to special labelling.

Additionally, the import of embryos and semen from clones would also be allowed, even for food production, but this would also be covered by the monitoring regime.