• Question: hi I would like to know how does the genetically modified meat have an impacts on our body?

    Asked by Théo Disider to Ruth on 17 Nov 2015.
    • Photo: Ruth Hamill

      Ruth Hamill answered on 17 Nov 2015:

      Hi Theo
      Thanks for a really interesting question. The genomes of farm animals have been drastically altered during hundreds of years of conventional breeding to meet the requirements of farmers, such as improved growth, leanness, disease resistance etc. Beneficial mutations spontaneously arising would be highly sought after for breeding and so the gene would spread and over time the breed would be genetically different from when it started out. The process of genetic modification by genetic engineering is slightly different in that it often introduces a gene from another species making what’s known as a transgenic animal. A lot of people are concerned about genetically modified foods, much of the reason for this has been the fear of environmental effects, effects on human health, but also a view that there is a corporatisation of food. At the moment in terms of meat, little or nothing has been marketed to the public, in contrast to very many genetically modified crop species, including soya, maize, cotton which are widely grown e.g. in the US though not so much in Europe. There is a scientific consensus that these crops, which have been modified for disease resistance and productivity amongst other reasons do not pose a greater health risk than conventional crops. To date many of the applications of genetic modification are not targeted to benefit the consumer or affect our health but instead to benefit the farmer in terms of improved production gains, and also benefit the corporation selling e.g. the pesticide that the genetically modified crops are resistant to.

      Genetic modification also has potential to actually improve human health. For example, a particular type of rice was genetically modified to include a gene to code for the production of vitamin A which is a common deficiency in Asian diets and is associated with the deaths of millions of children there each year. Rice is a very commonly consumed foodstuff in Asia and was viewed as having great potential to bridge this nutritional gap, but the developed product which was genetically modified to contain lots of vitamin A (termed golden rice) never took off due to opposition to genetically modified foodstuffs generally. Meat based products that have been developed include transgenic pigs that are naturally rich in omega 3 oils which could also be beneficial for human health. Again, these products have not yet received approval to reach the market.

      New techniques are developing which are very precise gene editing techniques and don’t involve transfer of a gene from one species to another completely unrelated one, so no transgenic organism is made. The scientists can precisely edit the DNA in one or two places to make the required change, but hopefully no other changes. Whether this is a more acceptable way forward for meat from genetically modified animals remains to be seen!