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Eating transgenic sausages

New Scientist

MEAT from transgenic pigs destined for destruction was turned into sausage and eaten by at least nine people in Florida. It may be the first time people in the US have eaten genetically modified meat.

This month Florida prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incident, which began when a University of Florida employee stole three dead experimental pigs. Unaware of the meat's origin, a butcher made sausages from it. Helen Griffin, who ate about 5 pounds of the sausages with a friend, thought they "tasted real good".

No ill effects were reported, but officials at the National Institutes of Health are nevertheless trying to work out if the meat was a health risk. The pigs had been genetically modified to carry a copy of the rhodopsin gene, which is involved in eye function. Philip Collis, a biosafety officer at the university, says it is unlikely the rhodopsin gene could have made the meat dangerous.

If there was any concern, says Collis, it's that the pigs had been injected with barbiturates before they were killed. The drug could have triggered an adverse reaction in those eating the meat.

However, the event seems to be an isolated one. "This is the only case of its kind we know of," says NIH spokesman Donald Ralbovsky. Still, University of Florida officials are ensuring that in the future, GM animals are spray-painted after being killed, so it's clear they should not be eaten, says Collis.

Freak incidents aside, government agencies are beginning to look at the imminent introduction of GM animal products into the human food supply. A new committee at the National Academy of Sciences, formed at the request of the Food and Drug Administration, will meet later this year. The FDA is urging GM food researchers to cooperate with the agency.

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Author: Sylvia Pagán Westphal

New Scientist issue: 28 July 2001

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