Genetically modified (GM) pigs have been approved for food and medical use in the U.S., drawing mixed reactions. The pigs are the second GM animal approved for food after GM salmon in 2015.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week approved GM pigs, which are engineered to eliminate alpha-gal, a sugar found in pigs that can cause an allergic reaction.
The FDA said this was the first time it had approved a GM animal for human food and medical use.
The FDA said it had confirmed that the food from the GM pigs, known as GalSafe pigs, was “safe for the general public to eat”, and suggested that the meat could be sold by mail order.
A spokesman for United Therapeutics Corp., a GM pig developer, was more cautious. In an email to the Guardian, the company’s head of investment relations said they had no plans to sell meat directly. The quicker goal, he said, was to target alpha-gal whole-organ transplants for patients with alpha-gal syndrome.
“We’re looking at the possibility of partnering with meat producers, but we have no plans to sell any meat ourselves,” said Dewey Steadman, adding that “the size of the GalSafe herd is limited to one a farm and 1,000 heads along with one abattoir ”, showing that large circulation was no longer possible.
Steadman said the current gene modification is “just one of 10 preparations we are currently using in pigs for our preclinical xenotransplantation [transplants to humans from nonhuman sources] a development program that we hope will one day help address the acute shortage of removable organs for people in need. ”
Walter Sánchez-Suárez, the veterinary scientist, and animal behavior and welfare expert, was less strong. “Unfortunately, this is another example of the systematic exploitation of inhuman people in the US,” he said.
Suarez, who works with US NGO Mercy for Animals, described genetic modification as a “complex device with great potential [but] also one that raises big ethical and practical questions ”. That tool, he said, would now “be used only to support the financial interests of animal production corporations”.
Consumers who are interested in alpha-gal-free meat can include those with alpha-gal syndrome, which is believed to be caused by tick bites. Eating normal red meat, which also contains alpha-gal, can cause an allergic reaction, going deeper from beeswax to respiratory difficulty.
The U.S. Food Safety Center, a nonprofit organization, noted that the meat from the genetically modified pigs has not yet been tested on people with the allergies. Steadman confirmed that was the case.
Jaydee Hanson, policy director at the center, said he was not aware that any tests would be done on the pigs as a food source or transplant. “We are meeting next week with our legal staff to decide whether they should take legal action to the FDA over the GM pig license,” Hanson said. “My biggest concern is that we don’t know if this is safe to eat, or as a source of organ transplants, and scientists, or the general public, haven’t seen the data. And there was no FDA public consultation process, as usual. ”
A spokesman for the European Food and Safety Administration (EFSA) said that, to date, GM animals, or foods derived from GM animals, have not been approved for placing on the market in the EU, and no claims have been filed. do business with an agreement ”.
A subsidiary of United Therapeutics, Revivicor, is another UK company, PPL Therapeutics, which produced the first cloned sheep, Dolly, in 1996.
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