Genetically Engineered 'Piggy Soybeans' Raise Health and Regulation Concerns

The US Department of Agriculture has approved a genetically engineered soybean product containing 26.6% pork myoglobin protein and bacterial genes resistant to antibiotics. The product, developed by Moolec, has sparked concerns among consumers and researchers about potential health risks and environmental impacts.

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Rizwan Shah
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Genetically Engineered 'Piggy Soybeans' Raise Health and Regulation Concerns

Genetically Engineered 'Piggy Soybeans' Raise Health and Regulation Concerns

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved a genetically engineered (GE) soybean product developed by Moolec that contains 26.6% pork myoglobin protein and bacterial genes resistant to antibiotics. This approval has sparked concerns among consumers, especially vegans and vegetarians, about the potential health risks and environmental impact of these so-called "piggy soybeans."

Why this matters: The approval of genetically engineered foods with animal proteins raises concerns about the blurring of lines between food categories and the potential for unintended health consequences. If not properly regulated, these products could have far-reaching impacts on the food industry, consumer choice, and environmental sustainability.

The GE soybeans have been approved for cultivation in Argentina, and the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will have no authority to regulate the safety of the pork soybean or its progeny derived from crosses with non-modified plants. Moolec, a subsidiary of BioCeres, is also seeking approval to improve, food by engineering beef genes into peas.

Researchers and consumer advocates have raised several concerns about the piggy soybeans. The contamination of conventional food by patented genetically engineered plants and animals is seen as a real threat, to consumers. There are also worries about the ability of GE pig soy genes to spread into the environment and outcross to other varieties of soy.

The potential health impacts of consuming pig soy are unknown. Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ, warns that "Failure to control cross-contamination puts all consumers' choice at risk, not just vegetarians and vegans who don't want soy with pork protein." Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ, adds that "The integrity of plant species is being disrupted by genetic engineering."

Bleakley also criticizes the regulatory process, stating that "Deregulation of GE products is based on shallow reasoning and serious environmental and health problems that could arise have been totally overlooked." History shows that unintended consequences of genetic engineering can be serious, with prion problems like BSE (bovine encephalitis) in cows or CJD in humans cited as examples.

The environmental impact of the piggy soybeans is another area of concern. Indigenous farmers in Argentina are already severely impacted by the toxic environment and destruction of soil from intensive farming of costly patented GE crops and associated pesticides. The continued destruction of the Amazon to grow genetically engineered soy is considered the biggest climate disaster that governments are ignoring.

New Zealand imported 460,000 metric tonnes of Argentinian soy in 2023, much of which is used as animal feed rather than for human consumption. Most consumer-facing brands in supermarkets deliberately exclude GE soy and use identity-preserved non-GMO and organic soy.

The approval of Moolec's genetically engineered "piggy soybeans" containing pork protein has raised significant concerns among researchers and consumers about potential health risks, environmental impacts, and the lack of regulatory oversight. As the ability of these GE genes to spread in the environment remains uncertain, many are calling for greater caution and further research into the unintended consequences of this novel food product.

Key Takeaways

  • USDA approves GE soybeans with 26.6% pork myoglobin protein and antibiotic-resistant genes.
  • Concerns were raised about health risks, environmental impact, and blurring of food categories.
  • GE soybeans can contaminate conventional food and spread into the environment.
  • The potential health impacts of consuming GE pig soy are unknown, with risks to all consumers.
  • The regulatory process is criticized for overlooking environmental and health concerns.