Genetically engineered “super-muscly pigs” for the meat industry

Genetically engineered pigs could be marketed in the EU without risk assessment or labelling

19 February 2018 / New methods of genetic engineering, such as the gene scissors CRISPR/Cas, are being used to produce animals with enhanced muscle growth. These are so-called “super-muscly pigs”. Various experiments have been carried out with pigs, cattle, sheep and goats to “knock-out” the myostatin (MSTN) gene which controls muscle growth. If MSTN is disrupted, there is an abnormal proliferation of muscle cells. These experiments have been successful in some animals; and in some cases patents have been filed on the resulting pigs and cattle.

Economic interests are clearly at the forefront of these experiments whilst animal welfare is being completely neglected. There have been serious problems with piglets: The first experiments in China were carried out with 900 embryos, but only 8 piglets showed the desired traits. All of them died within the first few months of life. The piglets had health problems such as thickened tongues. Further numerous experiments appeared to produce healthier animals. However, it is difficult to establish whether these animals are really healthy because they were slaughtered early on for use in other experiments.

Various stakeholders are demanding that more genetically engineered plants and animals are approved for marketing without any requirements for risk assessment or labelling if no additional genes have been inserted. In the case at issue, offspring of pigs from China and South Korea could enter the EU market unnoticed: No additional genes were inserted except a gene which naturally controls muscle growth. was downregulated.]

Just recently, the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice publicly declared his position on whether new methods of genetic engineering, known as gene editing, should come under EU GMO regulation. His statement lacks a clear distinction between conventional breeding processes and the new techniques of gene editing. The forthcoming EU court ruling is expected in just a few weeks or months.

If the upcoming judgement of the EU Court of Justice does actually create significant loopholes, political decision-makers have to take action to, for example, prevent uncontrolled imports of these genetically engineered pigs. In the light of the legal uncertainty, Testbiotech appreciates that in coalition treaty of the potential new government there have been declarations supporting the precautionary principle and the consumer choice.

Christoph Then, tel.: +49 15154638040,