Animals Science Technology

FDA Approves Genetically Altered Pigs Meant To Prevent Meat Allergies From Triggering

Photo: Shutterstock

The FDA has given the green light to the usage of “GalSafe” pigs, a genetically engineered variety that is designed to prevent meat allergies from getting triggered when consuming pork.

GalSafe pigs were developed by biomedical firm Revivicor, who received the first-ever joint approval for their pigs in both food and medical uses. This means that in the future, we could see these pigs both being consumed and used in place of standard pork cells in current medical treatments.

Red meat allergies can be triggered by contracting “Alpha-gal Syndrome,” which is a condition that causes us to react to a specific sugar called “Alpha-gal” that is common in many mammals (excluding humans). These allergic reactions can range from mild to severe.

Alpha-gal Syndrome is believed to be transmitted via the bite of the Lone Star tick, but more research needs to be done to determine the role that the ticks play there.

Photo: Shutterstock

These GalSafe pigs have been genetically engineered to have the Alpha-gal sugar removed, preventing those with Alpha-gal Syndrome from getting an allergic reaction when eating meat from these specific animals. They would also not get these allergic reactions from any medicines developed with cells from these specific pigs.

Revivicor’s safety studies focused on the potential for allergic reactions to occur in medicinal uses of the GalSafe pig cells. The FDA also reviewed the safety of consuming pork from these pigs, and determined they would also be safe to eat, finding that the Alpha-gal sugar was removed across multiple generations of pigs. However, safety of eating was not evaluated for those with Alpha-gal syndrome, meaning that more research needs to be done there before confirming that those with meat allergies can eat the pork with full confidence.

For those concerned about any potential danger of eating genetically engineered foods, it should be noted that there is a global consensus from scientists that such foods are safe to eat.

The FDA also found that the pigs were no more environmentally harmful or at risk of a food safety outbreak than standard pigs. GalSafe pigs have more stringent living conditions than standard pigs, so if anything, they might be getting slightly better care.

While GalSafe pigs have been approved to eat, it may take a while before pork products from these pigs start becoming available for sale. These are just the second-ever genetically engineered animal approved for eating, after AquAdvantage salmon, a product still not available for purchase yet.

When it is available, however, Revivicor has indicated that they intend to sell it by mail order, not through grocery stores.


This Installation Shows You Exactly How Much Synthetic Dye Kids Consume Yearly

Not all fruit snacks are created equal. Some use real fruit, others use artificial dye. But, only one sells well. This was the issue KIND Healthy Snacks faced with their fruit snacks. Made entirely of real dried fruit, their snacks weren’t selling as well as their neon colored counterparts. So KIND crunched the numbers – and not the ones you expect.

According to the company, because of the lack of regulations on food dyes and their resulting prevalence in “healthy” sounding foods like fruit snacks, American children collectively consume 2,000 gallons of artificial dyes per year. Last week, to put this amount in perspective in real life, KIND revealed a pubic installation in NYC’s Herald Square that displays all 2,000 gallons in full.

This installation consists of eight test tubes in a giant test tube rack, each containing one of the eight, brightly colored food dyes approved for use in the US, as well as foods they are found in that wouldn’t typically be expected.

This is only the latest battle in KIND’s war against unnatural food. Artificial dyes have long been a villain to KIND, a company who prides itself on staying away from the substances, as well as many other common additives that are deemed unnatural.

But the question is, what’s the concern? If these dyes have been approved by the FDA, why should we be worried about consuming them?

The answer, unlike fruit snacks, is grey. 

It’s been theorized since the mid-70’s that additives like food dyes are linked to hyperactivity in children, when Kaiser Permanente’s chief allergist, Ben Feingold, wrote about it in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Since then, countless studies have been done, but the results have historically been hard to solidify. The nature of these studies, unfortunately, have presented issues with internal validity due to dosage size, relying on parents to record results that are difficult for the scientifically untrained eye to catch, and the possibility that some children may be affected by something else in the food they were fed. So, while most studies did indeed link dyes to hyperactivity, skeptics still felt justified.

Recently, evidence has mounted. As methods of study have become more trusted, and agreeing studies continue to accumulate, so too do their conclusions. In a 2016 report, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reviewed multiple studies and meta-analyses and concluded that, while not going so far as to cause ADHD, food dyes have a definite effect on many children and that, with such an overwhelming amount of studies concluding the same thing, the FDA should take action.

This will be a hard sell. Unlike the European Food Safety Authority, where food dyes are banned in favor of natural colorings, the FDA is a reactionary agency. Foods in America are tested for safety by the companies who sell them, the FDA only checks these tests. They only step in and conduct their own tests when they feel it’s necessary. So, it’s entirely possible for unhealthy additives to slip through the cracks if their adverse effects are not immediately distinguishable.

This means that the FDA is unlikely to make a change unless there is a documented demand for it. Right now, brands as big as Kraft and Kellogg’s have pledged to remove artificial dye from some of their products after public complaints. The hope is that, eventually, the government won’t be far behind if notoriously stubborn corporations are already making the move. 

Until then, it will be up to the consumer to demand natural additives in their food. And, if it’s already been proven that natural colorings can be used on a large scale and artificial dyes have have no nutritional value, then the question isn’t whether we should demand this, but now, why wouldn’t we?

Health Opinion

The Rise In Food Safety Recalls Actually Means Our Food Is Getting Safer

2018 has definitely been a whirlwind year in the world of food safety news, as it appears that new food poisoning outbreaks have been making headlines almost every other week. It’s caused some concern that perhaps outbreaks are increasing, which could mean that our food supply is less safe.

That’s likely not the case, though, as the actual amount of outbreaks doesn’t seem to be changing. The FDA is just getting a lot better at catching them.

Since President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, the FDA has mobilized into more of a proactive body that’s been trying to snuff out food poisonings as early as they can. That has led to an increase in technology at the disposal of the food agency, and they’ve been using it to better identify potential nationwide outbreaks.

This technology, better known as whole genome sequencing (WGS), lets FDA and CDC officials identify outbreaks as they are starting to happen on a national scale. WGS keeps tabs on the DNA of specific species and subspecies of bacteria. As people get sick, samples are collected to identify these pathogens, which are then uploaded to the WGS database. Monitors can then pinpoint these microbes and track them across the entire nation. Thus, if two people in different parts of the country get sick from the same food and bacteria, the FDA and CDC can see that and determine that an outbreak is happening.

A few years ago, this would’ve been impossible to do, which is why so many illnesses likely flew under the radar. It’s estimated that 48 million illnesses attributed to food poisoning occur every year, but only a small fraction are reported. In 2016, for example, all of the reported food outbreaks together resulted in 14,259 illnesses, a minuscule number compared to the actual estimate.

Through new technology, though, the FDA can not only better respond to food poisoning situations, but also track down what food is responsible, who made it, and where it is currently being sold. Thus, recalls can be issued a lot faster to prevent more consumers from eating something that was contaminated and getting sick.

The FDA also has some other technology that helps it keep track of potential recalls prior to their outbreak. One of these systems is the Reportable Food Registry, a report filing software companies fill out the instant they believe contaminated food could have made it out to consumers. Food production facilities have 24 hours to fill a report out on that site from when that moment occurs. The FDA then reviews these reports and requests suppliers and recipients to be notified as needed. This creates a chain of reports that helps coordinate if a recall becomes necessary.

By using this software, the recall process is streamlined to happen a lot faster. It also acts as a cautionary system to have all potential scenarios covered. Not every report in the RFR will translate to a recall, but for the FDA and CDC, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food safety.

There are also third-party programs in place that the FDA keeps tabs on that help them identify potential food poisoning scenarios as well. The most well-known amongst these is, where consumers can report when they got sick and where they ate from that could have caused it. In the past, the site has been used to monitor several major food poisoning events at chains like Chipotle, where the FDA did eventually step in and close restaurants so they could investigate the potential outbreaks.

For the FDA, sites like these provide a huge benefit, since more customers reporting means that they can capture more of the millions of food poisonings that go unnoticed every year. It helps them catch food safety violations from restaurants at a better rate as well, ensuring that those are just as safe as the food that comes out of production facilities.

All of these new technologies have led to an overall safer food supply, as the FDA can catch nationwide outbreaks better, track pathogens across the country, and have information on potential recalls before they even begin.

This proactive approach to food safety does mean that we see more recalls in the news, but that only means that the government is getting better at catching them and preventing us from eating that food.

For us, this means that we can trust in a safer food supply from both grocery stores and restaurants. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating bacteria from the food, but when those contaminations do happen, we’re much less likely to consume them now thanks to the technology the FDA and CDC are leveraging.

So the next time you see a recall make headlines, know that it’s the result of the FDA and CDC doing their jobs better and decreasing your chances of getting food poisoning.

Food Policy Grocery Packaged Food

The FDA Was Just Petitioned To Ban Non-GMO Labeling

The question of genetically engineered foods, non-GMO branding, and their labeling was thought to have been put to bed a couple of years ago. Congress passed a law requiring the labeling of “GMO foods,” which will likely need to display a BE or “bioengineered” label by 2020. Should be all said and done, right?

While that was the case initially, a new citizen’s petition to the FDA has opened up that can of worms once again. This time, folks are asking for non-GMO labels to be banned on food.

fdaPhoto: Foodbeast // Peter Pham

For those wondering, non-GMO labels like the one above are done by “third party verifiers” and NOT by the FDA. The government has no qualms with these right now, but that may change based on the new petition filed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

According to Food Dive, ITIF’s petition claims that these non-GMO labels are “false and misleading” because they make a product appear healthier than those that contain bioengineered/GMO ingredients. Scientifically, this has been proven time and time again to not be the case, so ITIF feels that the non-GMO markings construe misbranding, making them illegal under FDA jurisdiction.

ITIF may have scientific sounding in their argument, but experts do not expect the FDA to accept their petition. The food industry has backed companies like the non-GMO project that create these label markings and claims, which weakens their case. Furthermore, one could argue that the phrase “non-GMO” is permissible under the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Unless the FDA deems that to be “commercial speech” that has less protections, the phrase would be legal.

By law, the FDA has 180 days to respond to the petitioners and decide whether or not to make such a bold claim when it comes to non-GMO labeling. If they accept the petition, it would likely come with a regulation or new law from Congress that would ban the phrase “non-GMO” and similar verbages, a huge blow to advocates of those who want consumers to know if their foods contain genetically engineered ingredients or not.

Animals Health News Packaged Food

Improperly Gutted Mackerel Being Recalled By The FDA For Potential Botulism

This may be one of the grossest-sounding food recalls of all time.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a nationwide recall of “The Duck” brand “Frozen Steamed Scomber Fish” because it wasn’t gutted properly. The error in fish processing was discovered at a local grocery store by agriculture inspectors in New York, where it’s illegal to sell fish who still have their intestines (and the literal crap within) inside of them.  This particular product has been distributed nationwide to retail stores with a red label marked “Product of Thailand” and UPC code 040459097206.

Incorrectly gutted fish have a high chance of containing spores of Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria known for poisoning people with botulinum toxin: the same chemical that was in the nacho cheese sauce from a gas station that killed a man last month.

The spores of this bacteria grow especially well in the poopy entrails of scomber fish (better known as mackerel), and can cause symptoms in people who consume them ranging from dizziness and blurred vision to muscle weakness, difficulty in breathing, and even paralysis.

Fortunately, no illnesses from these mackerel have yet to be reported, but if you do see them on shelves or in someone’s home, make sure to toss the fish and prevent anyone from contracting this horrible disease. If you’ve bought it, also make sure to discard of it ASAP.

News Restaurants

The FDA Just Got Sued For Illegally Delaying Nutrition Menu Labeling

Photo by King Huang on Flickr.

On May 5, 2017, the FDA’s nutrition and calorie labeling rule for the menus of chain restaurants and similar establishments was scheduled to go into effect. The day before, the FDA announced that they would delay enforcing those rules for another year, marking the third such postponement since the rules were created in 2014.

As a result, consumers will still lack access to nutrition facts on menus of several restaurant chains. Which means, they won’t be able to properly determine how many calories and nutrients they are ingesting for each meal until that information is posted.

Consequently, the delay didn’t sit well with some food consumer watchdog groups, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Consumer League (NCL), who have sued the FDA in federal court under the claim that the most recent delay was illegal.

In the lawsuit, which was obtained by Consumerist, the CSPI and NCL claim that the FDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by immediately posting the delay without any notification or allowance for public discussion. Under the APA, agencies like the FDA need to publish a notice of a proposed rule or change in a current regulation in the Federal Register and allow for public comment before amending, creating, or repealing the rule. The FDA didn’t do either of those things, and thus broke the law.

Because of this, the CSPI and NCL have asked the court to declare the newest delay to be “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion.” They would also like the court to bar the delay from taking place and for compliance to be enforced within 15 days of a judge’s decision.

The FDA declines to comment on any pending lawsuits, but several major food chains, including Subway and McDonald’s, have already begun reporting their calories on menus. At least we’ll be able to get nutritional information at some of our favorite chains before this whole mess is sorted out.

Health News Science Technology

FDA Gets $3 Million From Congress To Educate The Public on GMOs

Many of us have seen the above Jimmy Kimmel Live! clip where the show goes around and interviews people on what GMOs (genetically modified organisms) exactly are and why they avoid them in their diet. Those interviewed tend to not even know what GMO stands for, indicating a lack of education on the subject that the U.S. government finally has decided to address.

In the latest appropriations bill passed by Congress, three million dollars were included for a joint campaign between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for “consumer outreach and education” regarding biotechnology and genetically engineered foods. The campaign hopes to exemplify “the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts” of GMO foods.

The funding comes after an open letter from over 50 major food industry and agriculture groups asking the government to fund an effort to rebuff the “tremendous amount of misinformation about agricultural biotechnology in the public domain.” With the majority of scientists in agreement that GMO foods are healthy and safe – in some cases, even safer than non-GMO foods – to consume, 39 percent of the public still believe that GMO foods pose some sort of health risk.

It’s still unclear as to whether such a campaign would prove to be successful, however. A report last year showed that most Americans are informed about GMOs and their benefits, yet 76 percent would still rather not eat them.

Nonetheless, the departments have the money to go forward with this campaign if they wish. No timetable or launch date has been announced yet, but if they’re looking for ideas for a starting point, we got them covered.

Health News Opinion Packaged Food Products Technology

After New Research, The FDA NEEDS To Ban This Carcinogenic Food Whitener


Photo: Phys

A little background is necessary before diving deep into this piece: I’m a food scientist by trade. Having graduated from one of the top food science schools in the world (UC Davis), I’ve learned the inner workings of the food industry, such as the legal process and toxicological research needed to get ingredients and additives approved for food use.

So when I write an article saying that the FDA needs to ban one of the most popular food additives, it’s because something terrible has come out regarding that particular additive. Which is exactly what’s happened today.

A new study published by Nature found that typical levels of titanium dioxide in food caused precancerous lesions in FORTY PERCENT of rats used in the study. Titanium dioxide is an approved food additive used to brighten white colors in products like alfredo sauce, powdered donuts, hard candies, medicinal pills, and icing. In the study, it was found to disrupt normal intestinal immune system regulation, which leads to the formation of precancerous lesions in the colon. Basically, that means that titanium dioxide ingestion, in acceptable FDA ingestion levels, can cause colon cancer.

If you’re wondering what acceptable levels are, the study focused on the oral ingestion of titanium dioxide at 10 mg/kg body weight (or roughly 10 parts per million). The FDA allows titanium dioxide to be in food at about 1% of the food weight, and previous studies have shown serious toxicological symptoms at as low as 50 parts per million. The dose in the study was clearly much lower than that of toxic levels or of acceptable usage levels in foods. Simply put, the study was conducted at approximately the levesl that this compound would be seen in your food.

While the study itself didn’t actually use food as the vehicle of oral ingestion (using water containing the titanium dioxide instead), this was still food-grade titanium dioxide being consumed orally and evaluated for carcinogenic risk. It was the same titanium dioxide that we consume, albeit at a slightly higher concentration than what would be in normal food since it was added into water. Nonetheless, the additive was shown to produce precancerous lesions in 40% of the rats studied, which is a significantly high amount of cancer development for a study.


Photo: Environmental Leader

Titanium dioxide has already been found to be a carcinogen when inhaled, so this study just adds on to the risk of using titanium dioxide in foods. It’s also prompted France to order a review of the safety of titanium dioxide shortly after the article was published, according to Reuters. That alone should get the FDA thinking on possibly re-evaluating the safety of titanium dioxide as an additive as well.

Potential carcinogens are something of mass concern, and a toxicological risk to the general public, especially when it comes to the widely-used titanium dioxide. Sadly, this study wasn’t the only one to come out recently highlighting the toxic dangers of it.

A few days earlier, NanoImpact published an article that found that titanium dioxide also hindered nutrient absorption in the small intestine. In a similar way to the additive disrupting intestinal immune function, titanium dioxide affects nutrient absorption by decreasing the amount of iron, zinc, and fatty acids that the body absorbs from food.

Not only does titanium dioxide now pose a serious carcinogenic toxicity, but it also poses a serious nutritional toxicity. These studies make it clear that titanium dioxide is something that needs to get OUT of our food, ASAP. At the very least, the FDA needs to reevaluate the safety of titanium dioxide following this new research.

For now, if you see titanium dioxide on a food product, I would highly recommend avoiding it for the near future until the FDA sorts this out (if the FDA chooses to, that is). If you’re a food company that’s using titanium dioxide, I would remove it from your products to ensure that carcinogens are removed from your food and consumers feel safe about eating your food products.

The more you know about what’s in your food, the safer you can be when eating it. And right now, the safest bet is to avoid titanium dioxide altogether — and for the FDA to ban it once and for all.