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AGRICULTURE REPORT - February 18, 2003: Genetically Engineered Pigs Sold Without Approval - 2003-02-15

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Food in the United States can include genetically engineered crops. No genetically engineered animals, however, have yet been approved by the government to be eaten. But federal officials announced that some experimental pigs might have entered the food supply. The food safety officials said there appeared to be no danger, though, if people ate meat from these animals.

The pigs were born during research at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The researchers wanted to create a pig that could produce more milk. So they took genetic material from a cow and put it into pigs. The scientists also designed a gene to improve the ability of baby pigs to process milk.

The goal of the research was to create a faster-growing pig. These experiments began in two-thousand-one. They ended this January.

In all, the pigs gave birth to three-hundred-eighty-six babies. The researchers sold these piglets to an animal seller, who then may have sold them for use as food.

The Illinois researchers told federal officials that the animals did not possess any changed genes from their parents. For this reason, the scientists said they believed they could sell the young pigs to market. The Food and Drug Administration, however, says the researchers were supposed to destroy the animals to keep them out of the food supply.

The F-D-A said it did not have enough information to confirm that no engineered genes were passed on to the piglets. Even so, agency officials said the scientific evidence they had suggested there was no risk to public health.

Still, the case has added to the issue over genetically engineered foods. Critics say there may be unknown risks. A few years ago, some corn called StarLink entered the American food supply without approval.

Scientists gave this corn a protein poisonous to some insects that attack corn crops. But this protein was not shown to break down easily in the human stomach. So the government approved StarLink for animals but not for people.

Some people said they got sick after they ate food products made with the StarLink. But the producer of the corn noted that government reports said no link was proven.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.