Organic Consumers Association

The New York Times, February 6, 2003

F.D.A. Says Food Supply May Contain Altered Pigs


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. The agency said it did not consider the pigs to present any risk to public health. Still, the incident is the latest of several that call into question whether regulations are adequate to assure that the food supply remains safe as plants and animals are increasingly engineered to produce drugs and other products.

The pigs were created at the University of Illinois as part of an experiment to see if they could be made to grow faster without injections of antibiotics, a common practice that has raised safety concerns. Some pigs were given a cow lactation gene to promote increased milk production for their young, university officials said.

Others were given a synthesized gene for insulin-like growth factor 1, which was designed to improve their digestion. Some pigs contained both genes, they said. The F.D.A. said that from April 2001 until last month, 386 of the offspring of the genetically engineered pigs were sold to a livestock dealer who might have sold them for use as food.

While the university insisted that the offspring had not inherited the foreign genes and were thus not genetically engineered, the drug agency said it could not verify that. In any case, the offspring were not supposed to have been sold for food without permission, the agency said. "They were not to release them without our permission and this is their potential violation," Dr. Lester Crawford, F.D.A. deputy commissioner, said in a telephone news briefing, adding that the university could face fines or be required to stop certain research.

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