Science in Society Archive

Transgenic Meat Scandal

Prof. Joe Cummins gives a prompt account of how the United States regulatory agencies allowed its universities to pass potentially poisonous transgenic meat to the millions, thus reflecting badly on both the regulatory agencies and the university scientists.

The inability of the US regulatory agencies to prevent contamination of the food chain with potentially poisonous transgenic plant and animal products has reached scandalous heights.

Within recent months, we've learned that transgenic pharm crops have contaminated food crops [1-3], and a transgenic papaya was approved for commercial production even though it contained a transgenic protein whose amino acid sequence is identical to a known allergen [4].

Now, the US Food and Drug administration (FDA) reports that the University of Illinois has marketed 386 pigs that were the progeny of transgenic animals [5]. The FDA report indicates that the marketed animals had not been adequately tested for the presence of transgenes, and fails to give details of the transgenes in the experimental animals. It states its belief that the incident was an isolated one, and that the transgenic products posed no health risks. The FDA report is not entirely forthcoming or truthful; indeed, it reads more like a public relations text on behalf of the corporations than a serious public information document.

Andrew Pollack reported in the New York Times [6] that some of the transgenic animals had the gene for insulin-like growth factor, but that the FDA still believed such genetic modifications posed no health concerns to those who have consumed meat from the transgenic animals. Pollack also contradicted the FDA's claim that the present case was an "isolated incident". In 2001, transgenic animals had been butchered and turned into sausage.

The FDA's claim that there is no health concern associated with consumption of transgenic animals containing insulin-like growth factor is truly bizarre. Insulin-like growth hormone is a wellknown cancer promoter, as is documented in an editorial report published in the British Medical Journal in 2000 [7]. The cancers associated with high insulin-like growth factor include colorectal and breast cancer. The transgenic pork poses a real and immediate danger of cancer promotion for consumers.

Let's now turn to the famous earlier sale of transgenic pork that was ignored by FDA. In 2001, carcasses from transgenic pigs created at the University of Florida were sold for human consumption rather than being incinerated even though they had, in addition, been treated with barbiturate drugs and chloroform. Some meat was turned into sausage and consumed by a number of people.

A report from Agence France Presse English Reuters [8] treated the episode with dismissive levity, calling it the "Wurst-case Scenario" and quoted a lady, who ate five pounds of the transgenic sausage, pronouncing that it "tasted real good".

A more professional Gainsville Sun reported that the pigs had been injected with barbiturates to kill them, before the carcasses were sold to a local butcher who made sausages from the meat [9]. The butcher was quoted as saying that, "we only ate a little bit of it, we threw it out because it did not taste right". But then, the butcher also said he took the remainder of the sausage to the home of a friend whose funeral was in progress, and it was consumed by the friends of the deceased.

Neither government regulators nor journalists have come to grips with the hazards of transgenic foods. As is clear in the present case, many of the transgene products themselves could be dangerous.

But a more insidious danger is the exposure of the public to transgenic DNA, which has the potential to cause cancer by jumping into the genomes of cells. The first two cancer victims among the handful of successes of gene therapy, identified within months of each other, ought to serve as a warning [10-12]. As has been repeatedly stressed, the transgenic constructs used in gene therapy are essentially the same as those used in making transgenic plants and animals, and carry the same risks.

Our government regulators have not been doing their job. But the worst offenders are the scientists in universities who should have known better than to have allowed the transgenic animals and carcasses to be sold as food.

Article first published 13/02/03


  1. Ho MW. 'Pharmegeddon, Science in Society 2003, 17, 23-24 .
  2. Cummins J. Poison pharm crops near you, Science in Society 2002, 15, 16 .
  3. Cummins J. Risk of edible transgenic vaccines Science in Society 2003, 17, 24 .
  4. Cummins J. Allergenic papaya scandal. I-SIS Report Jan. 2003 .
  5. Food and Drug Administration "FDA investigates improper disposal of bioengineered pigs" 2003
  6. Pollack A. The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it was investigating the possibility that genetically engineered pigs might have been illegally sold for use as food. February 6, 2003 New York Times.
  7. Smith G, Gunnel D and Holly J. Cancer and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-1 ). BMJ 2000, 321, 847-8.
  8. Agence France Presse English Reuters "WURST-CASE SCENARIO: TRANSGENIC SAUSAGES MISTAKENLY EATEN IN US" July,25, 2001
  9. Miller C. Tainted GM Pigs Put Into Sausages. 2001, 6-4-1
  10. "Predicted hazards of gene therapy a reality" by Mae-Wan Ho. I-SIS Report, October 2002 commenting on Science, News of the Week, 4 October 2002.
  11. Ho MW. Gene therapy's first cancer victim. Science in Society 2003, 17, 26-27.
  12. "Gene therapy trials halted" by Andrew Pollack, 15 January 2003, New York Times.
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