The USDA has approved the first plant genetically modified with animal protein. The product is called Piggy Sooy, a soybean genetically engineered to have pork protein. GMOs have existed for decades, but this is the first time one has been engineered with sequences from an animal. People may assume that this has been tested for safety, but evidence of such testing is non-existent. 

First, the Moolec application to the USDA for Piggy Sooy contains mostly redacted, industry-protected “secrets.” The USDA responded that based on the evidence of genetic modification of the soybean, there is no concern for noxious weeds, harm to the soybean supply, or potential increase to plant pest risk. The FDA and EPA also have a hand in regulating GMOs. 

The USDA approval is just one hurdle in bringing the Piggy Sooy product to the market. The FDA says it ensures GMOs are safe to eat before approving the product for market. That approval process involves analyzing the company’s conclusions from its completed studies. The FDA is making a judgment call based on incomplete data. 

Jason Dietz and Theresa Eisenman, both of the FDA, have stated that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure their product is safe. While the USDA regulates the safety of GMOs as they may affect other plants and pests, the FDA ensures they are safe for human consumption. The EPA, meanwhile, is responsible for making sure the protective mechanism that protects it from pesticides is safe. 

The FDA definitively states that GMOs are as healthy as non-GMOs. Nowhere on the website does it link to the specific research or studies that prove the safety of GMOs. There is one place with two dead links to the research. They often state that there is “no evidence” that GMOs are harmful compared to non-GMO counterparts. Meanwhile, Mexico is in a battle with the United States as they do not want to accept GMO imports under the trade agreement that was signed in 2020. 

The U.S. says there is no scientific basis for Mexico to not accept GMO imports. Mexico argues that research proves glyphosate and GMOs are harmful to the health of humans. Mexican Agricultural Secretary Victor Suarez said, “The United States “argues that the decisions in Mexico are not based on science and that their decisions are. But we still haven’t seen the science of the United States or the companies. We are looking forward to that study with great pleasure.”

This research review states, “The results of most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters.” 

Certainly, the contradiction is clear. Both sides of the GMO argument state definitively that all the evidence says there is no harm, or, all evidence shows that there is some harm. The HighWire previously reported on the new class of CRISPR GMOs that the USDA felt the need to deregulate as long as the gene-editing could theoretically be obtained through natural breeding processes. Meanwhile, a new type of GMO that inserts genes from an animal into a plant seems to be getting the same treatment as a typical GMO. 

There are plenty of “molecular farming” companies working on similar projects. South Korean scientists have inserted beef proteins into rice to create a protein-rich pink rice that is brittle rather than sticky. Other companies are working on replicating dairy proteins within seeds that would be farmed

The purpose of this experiment is to reduce the carbon footprint by reducing the number of farm animals in agricultural systems. However, plant agriculture has its own drawbacks when animals are not part of the system to help regenerate the soil. Estimates indicate that 80% of agricultural fields are monocultures. A monoculture is a field planted with a single crop, which is common for corn, soy, and many other crops. 

Monocultures degrade the land and soil through erosion. study by the University of Colorado Boulder found that corn farmers in the U.S. spend half a billion dollars on fertilizers just to make up for the loss of soil fertility caused by monoculture erosion. A regenerative agriculture system utilizes livestock to fertilize fields and holds carbon in the soil. It is less destructive to the environment. If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions that lead to climate change, then replacing animal agriculture with plant monocultures will be more destructive through the process of soil erosion. 

Finian Makepeace and Ryland Engelhart recently joined Del Bigtree on The HighWire to discuss the importance of animals for reducing carbon emissions and building soil fertility. The inputs for growing crops involve fertilizer that comes from the animals that are so often blamed for carbon emissions and climate change. 

GMO Animals

The FDA recently updated its guidelines for genetically altered animals. The document states, “These technologies hold great promise for many uses and public and animal health benefits, such as animal disease resistance, control of zoonotic disease transmission to humans, improved animal welfare, and increased and higher quality food production.”

It takes a “risk-based approach” and “exercised enforcement discretion” by allowing a company that is genetically modifying cows for human consumption to bypass the need for an approved application. In this case, the FDA deemed the genetic alteration to be low-risk because it is a mutation that occurs naturally to cause a cow to have a short, slick coat. 

The FDA has also used the same discretion for genetically engineered animals that were intended for non-food uses, including pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens, and salmon. Of course, humans frequently consume all of those animals. The FDA has only approved genetic engineering for human consumption in animals if the modification could theoretically happen through natural breeding processes. They have also approved genetic modifications for pharmaceutical purposes and lab testing. 

Other genetically engineered animal experiments aim to reduce emissions to meet climate goals established by the government. UC Davis is working on genetically engineering cows to produce less methane by using CRISPR technology. 

This science experiment neglects to understand the importance of cows in regenerating the soil. This doesn’t occur with an agricultural system that separates the cows from the fields. Monoculture crops and factory farms contribute greatly to climate issues scientists are trying to solve through genetic engineering. 





Steven Middendorp

Steven Middendorp is an investigative journalist, musician, and teacher. He has been a freelance writer and journalist for over 20 years. More recently, he has focused on issues dealing with corruption and negligence in the judicial system. He is a homesteading hobby farmer who encourages people to grow their own food, eat locally, and care for the land that provides sustenance to the community.

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