FDA allows Washington university to use gene-edited pork in human food

The FDA authorization is investigationalU
calendar icon 3 May 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

According to a recent news release from Washington State University (WSU), the university received authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use pork from gene-edited pigs in food for human consumption. The university developed German-style sausages. 

“It’s important for a university to set the precedent by working with federal regulators to get these animals introduced into the food supply,” said Jon Oatley, a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “If we don’t go through that process, all of the research we’re doing is for naught because it will never make it out into the public.”

Gene-edited technology, called CRISPR, has been used to improve traits in livestock. Oatley sought investigational food use authorization for five gene-edited pigs. His aim was to demonstrate that food made from the animals is safe to eat. He also wanted to show other institutions that it is possible to get this type of FDA authorisation. Gene-editing can make changes in an organism’s DNA that could occur in nature or through selective breeding but would take much longer without a tool like CRISPR.

The FDA authorization is investigational. It is also limited to the five gene-edited pigs.

According to the WSU News release, the two-year-old pigs were processed at the WSU Meat Lab and inspected by the US Department of Agriculture.

Gene-editing technology allows for highly selective breeding. It has the potential to improve meat quality, as well as the health and resilience of livestock.

Only one other organization, a company called Acceligen, has had a gene-edited animal receive the FDA approval to enter the food supply chain. In 2020, the FDA made a low-risk determination for products made from “Slick-Haired Cattle” who are gene-edited to have coats that increase the animals’ resilience to higher temperatures. 

Oatley said public understanding on gene-editing is inadequate and riddled with misconceptions. He hopes WSU will serve as an example that helps dispel misinformation and, ultimately, improve perceptions of the technology. 

“There’s a trust that comes with university-based research,” he said. “At WSU, we’re all about the science. We just want to make sure the research is valid, and the animals we produce are healthy.”

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