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Is that a Worm in Your School Lunch? Oh, No, It’s Just a Porkchop.

Goats with spider genes. Pigs with worm genes. Genetically-engineered animals cross the lines of phyla and even kingdom with plants containing animal genes and vice versa. It’s no longer a question of can we do that. It’s crossed over the line of should we do that. And if we do, should we sell it for food? Without a label?

If it had a label, would you eat it? If it’s considered safe, then, why wouldn’t they label it? We have a right to know what kind of meat(s) we are eating, after all.

The answer for most of is no, we won’t eat it, which is why there likely won’t be a label required, according to the new FDA plan, unless the game of gene mix-n-match alters the nutritional content of the food. The FDA has a similar no label approach for cloned meats that are designated for human consumption.

I’m not exactly a card-carrying member of an organized religion, but there seems to be something fundamentally wrong about the whole thing. It just ain’t natural. Especially when it’s sitting on my plate next to the mashed potatoes.

Well, have no fear. The FDA is going to check it out for you on a case-by-case basis as well as oversee the tracking of the animals to prevent interbreeding with non-GE animals.

Never mind that this is the same understaffed agency that can only manage to inspect less than one percent of imported foods. Of that one percent a significant amount of that food is found to be poisonous or even containing carcinogens. Yet, the agency has not increased inspections.

Let’s take a moment and do our own case-by-case evaluation. One of the genetically-engineered animal types is a type of pig who has genes of a roundworm. Apparently, this unnatural mutation yields meat that is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. However, pork and even bacon and other meats used to be considerably higher in these fatty acids — when it was raised on a natural diet.

So, what’s easier? Feed pigs what pigs should eat and raise them sustainably. Or, throw out all the biodiversity and richness of breeds, mutate a pig that has roundworm genes, then raise a whole new pig from this artificial and limited gene pool — which is very expensive to create — just to get the similar desired end result of healthier meat. Hmmm. Really doesn’t make much sense when you put it like that, does it?

Or how about the intention of mutating a cow that is immune to madcow disease? Madcow disease originated from feeding these herbivores meat from their own species, a human error. Again, what’s easier? Feed the cows grass and raise them sustainably, or eliminate all the natural variation (what hasn’t already been limited by selective breeding), create a cow-other species mix in a test tube… clone that … you get the point.

Seems like we are taking a rather long and bizarre detour to an unknown destination, when, well, we were already just where we needed to be before industrial farming methods began treating animals like manufactured goods and feeding them unnatural things. Maybe we could just go back to doing things right instead of trying to fix a problem with something that could create a bigger problem?

Regardless of if you agree with genetically-engineered animals, the point is that you, as a consumer, have a right to know what you are eating. The no-label approach removes that right from you to choose and understand what your food is.

On a rhetorical note, If the “pig” no longer has pig DNA alone, can it still be labeled pork?

If you have an opinion you would like to share with the FDA about human consumption (with no label) of genetically-engineered animals, you have until November 18 to let them know. The link will take you right where you need to be view the FDA plan. Or, if you want to skip the read and just submit a comment, you can go straight here and reference Docket FDA-2008-D-0394. Click the box to indicate you are looking to submit a comment.

Photo © Braendan Yong | Dreamstime.com

8 comments
  1. Beth Bader

    The FDA has a lousy record with oversight and preventing the spread of GE plants to non-GE has been a complete failure as well. It’s not a controllable system, especially by an agency like FDA. Big Ag has a history of big mistakes and I strongly feel that this would be one. Limiting diversity goes against the laws of nature and opens the door to a whole host of issues, strange genetics aside. It’s not the right thing to do.

  2. GeneticallyYours

    I think that one of the reasonable arguments against putting GE/GM labels on foods is that the lay-public is far too uninformed to know what the difference is. There is widespread fear and loathing of GE/GM foods that is totally unfounded. Since the dawn of agriculture we have sought to manipulate food crops and animals to increase production and nutrition. Now in modern times we have more tools at our disposal to do so, and more quickly.

    Beth, I’m sad to say that your writing shows you to be one of the uninformed masses. No, pork didn’t ‘used to’ have Omega-3 fatty acids. Those are found primarily in fish and flax seeds, and even if you feed pigs with fish and flax, you don’t get Omega-3 enriched pork.

    And no, we don’t mutate cows to be immune to be immune to mad cow disease (BCE). The cows are not mutated, the embryos have a gene inserted or deleted. Mutation is a spontaneous and uncontrolled genetic change. This process is pain-staking and rigorously controlled. Research into prion-based disease, like BCE, can have far reaching implications to the treatment of human disease like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

    While I’d like to think that the labeling of foods and the discussion of genetic engineering would inspire people to educate themselves on the topic, I know that the majority of people will have the same knee-jerk reaction that you did. “Oh Noes, its GE food. Run away!”

  3. Beth Bader

    @GeneticallyYours, as one of the uninformed masses, I still have the right to know what is in my food and the right to choose for myself whether or not to eat it.

    By not labeling these items, the FDA would be removing this right. Based on a long and unfortunate history that has often put business interests ahead of consumer safety (lack of enforcement of meat recalls is just one thing that comes to mind, lack of inspections of imported foods, Vioxx), I have little faith in the FDA/USDA. I have even less faith in many agribusiness entities.

    If, as you say, foods have been manipulated for better health since the dawn of agriculture, why are so many less healthy than ever in the face of the obesity epidemic?

    No one has the right to make decisions on keeping consumers in the dark over food choices. Regardless of if that decision is “for our own good, we’re just to uninformed to know it” or for profits and patents, or other reasons, it is still our right as consumers.

    If GE/GM is such a good path, then it is the obligation of that industry to try and inform, not force, our decisions.

    I respectfully disagree with your position on not labeling these items.

  4. GiGi

    This is just wrong. I have no faith in our government – let alone the idiotic FDA – to do what is right by consumers. Wrong wrong wrong. Thanks for posting.

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