There are differences between something that is cloned and something that is genetically modified. The FDA recently gave the go-ahead on genetically modified meats as well, and this is something entirely different from cloning. In this case, scientists tinker with the actual genetic code of an animal, splicing and dicing to create a new gene sequence. For instance, geneticists have started inserting DNA from cows into a pig’s DNA to create pigs that grow faster and get plumper

Here are some other things being worked on, currently in the laboratory stage of development.

  • Salmon that grow more quickly and efficiently
  • Goats that produce drugs in their milk or blood
  • Chickens that produce drugs in the whites of eggs
  • Cows that are immune to the brain wasting mad cow disease
  • Pigs with organs that can be transplanted into humans without rejection
  • Hypoallergenic dogs and cats for those with pet allergies
  • Man-eating pigeons with a 20-foot wingspan and 4-inch raptor claws.

Just kidding on that last one. But that would be pretty cool. Who knows, the century is still young, and some twisted soul in the CIA special weapons unit could be working on it. When you’re talking about genetic modification, the potential dangers increase. Anytime you’re creating something with an entirely new molecular structure there is the potential for unintended side effects. When you’re intentionally engineering animals to produce certain drugs in their milk, well, the presence of drugs can pose potential problems as well. Once again, the fact that meats or other products form such hybrids won’t have to be labeled as such has many people squeamish.

On the positive side, with the exception of animals that produce poison or other neurotoxins, every creature’s flesh is edible. From cows and pigs to rat, dog or cat, any animal that doesn’t manufacture venom should be safe to eat so long as it is prepared properly, handled properly, and is not taken from diseased animals. In theory, any animal we could successfully create and get to survive to maturity, be it a cow-pig or a hamster-horse (I can’t wait to taste one of those) should be safe to eat.

In this case as well, the process is too expensive for such animals to be consumed directly. The extra output gained wouldn’t be worth the cost of lab growing such animals one by one. Anything that was genetically modified for meat consumption would have to live long enough to produce healthy offspring with the desired gene mutations. And, as the idea goes, if such animals can survive their flesh should be disease-free and perfectly healthy to eat, just as is the flesh from any other creature.

What worries some people is that they think the FDA isn’t being vigilant enough to carefully test all the potential variations that could enter the food supply. The FDA is instituting the current regulations under the New Animal Drug portion of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. In essence, the FDA is treating genetic modification the same as giving drugs to animals. Many believe a new set of regulations must be written specifically for genetically engineered animals. The FDA responds by pointing out that regulations still require FDA review of each new application, so they say that any genetically modified product would be held to stringent safety standards.

Currently, the only genetically modified creature that is available for sale in the United States is an aquarium fish that glows in the dark. Then on January 7, 2009, the FDA approved the first product from a genetically modified animal: a goat that produces an anti-clotting drug, Atryn, in its milk. The drug is being produced by GTC Biotherapeutics for use in people who have a hereditary disorder that makes them vulnerable to life-threatening blood clots, especially during surgery and childbirth The genetically modified animals are not scheduled to be used it the food supply.

Despite the huge potential, there are only a handful of companies currently working on such products. But as science progresses and regulations allow, that could soon change. On the pi us side, you may not have to choose between chicken and beef anymore. Just get the cow-chicken meat and enjoy both at the same time.

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