Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=105449
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 8:30:09 AM CST
Courtesy of Dr. Cecil Forsberg / University of Guelph
WASHINGTON – It’s been called “Frankenfood.” But backers of genetically engineered meat say it’s just as tasty and safe for consumers as regular cuts from the butcher.
We’re not talking about mad scientists holed up in castles. Some of the biggest links in the food chain expect farm animals with altered DNA to end up on the dinner plate – unless the Food and Drug Administration says no.
The creators of “Frankenfood” push health and cost benefits, but diners in the not-too-distant future also could help the environment – by gorging on modified pork chops.
Canadian researchers have created a new breed of pig – dubbed Enviropig – whose upgraded digestive system produces cleaner manure. The genetically engineered hog hasn’t made it to the market yet because it’s been penned in for years by regulatory obstacles in Canada and the U.S.
Pig farms produce giant lagoons of waste, which are then skimmed for natural fertilizer. But the manure contains high levels of phosphorus – a chemical that pigs have difficulty breaking down from their cereal grain diet.
After being spread onto crops, excess phosphorus can trickle its way to surface and ground water. Where there is phosphorus in ponds, there is algae – and the green muck can choke off oxygen in water and kill fish.
The Enviropig keeps more phosphorus inside of its belly – reducing the concentration in manure by about 60 percent, according to developer John Phillips. Its rewritten DNA code tells the salivary glands to pump out an enzyme that digests the chemical.
Phillips is joined by a slew of food producers who say genetically engineered meat can cut costs for both farmers and consumers. Potential applications include salmon that grow twice as fast and cattle resistant to mad cow disease.
But first the Food and Drug Administration has to sort through reams of data and a bevy of health concerns. The FDA took a step toward approving genetically engineered meat with draft guidelines for approval in September, but there’s no timeframe for a definitive stance.
Phillips, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said the FDA’s rigorous review process and full disclosure through clear labeling are needed for consumers to gain trust in the technology.
“I don’t think we will call it green pork,” Phillips said at a panel discussion this week, “but nonetheless we think people should have the choice.”
Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition, said he doubts shoppers will clamor for genetically engineered food right now.
“Consumers today are more aware than ever about where their food comes from,” he said. But they might be persuaded given proper education and a transparent approval process, he said.
Other critics have focused on animal welfare.
Michael Greger of the Humane Society of the United States said farm animals already are pushed to their biological limits and can’t take more stress – from exhausted cows to monster turkeys that can’t even support their own weight.
Greger said some genetically engineered animals could be beneficial, but called Enviropig a “Trojan pig” during the panel discussion – something the “industry can hold up while they slip past the really lucrative and potentially damaging applications.”