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

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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.

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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.

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Chinese Scientists Use CRISPR Gene Editing To Produce Low-Fat Pigs

Each year, pig farmers in China unfortunately lose millions of piglets due to cold weather. Pigs lack a gene that allows them to regulate their body temperature the same way humans do, and thus, the cold weather can prove fatal to young piglets. Fortunately, Chinese scientists have been able to use CRISPR, a gene-editing technology, to develop low-fat pigs that can take the cold and are healthier for us to consume as well.

low-fat pigs

A paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal describes how the pigs use their new genetic properties to burn fat in cold weather to stay warm. By doing this, the animals can have up to 24% less body fat, saving farmers the lives of millions of piglets while not having to spend millions on heating and feeding costs for their livestock.

The researchers were able to give the pigs these new properties through direct gene editing. They used CRISPR to edit a mouse version of the heat-regulating gene into pig cells, and were able to produce a dozen male pigs that could keep themselves warm. The pigs were reportedly healthy and normal throughout the research, and one even produced healthy offspring.

In terms of flavor, the scientists told NPR that they don’t think the gene editing will cause a change in how the pigs taste, and could actually increase consumer preference. “People like to eat the pork with less fat but higher lean meat,” one of the researchers said.

All of this means that the low-fat pigs will be cheaper to produce, have a higher yield since less will die to the cold, be healthier, and still taste delicious. It’s unlikely, due to negative perception of GMOs, that meat from these genetically altered pigs will ever make it to the USA. However many other parts of the world, especially China, will be able to benefit from the lower costs and increased accessibility the raising of these pigs will provide.