Reengineering Life

Gene-Edited Bacon Could Be Coming to Your Plate Soon

A last-minute Trump administration deal could speed up approval of genetically engineered livestock

Emily Mullin
Future Human
Published in
4 min readJan 26, 2021

--

Photo: Andy Sacks/Getty Images

Reengineering Life is a column from Future Human about the ways humans are using biology to reprogram our bodies and the world around us.

Two U.S. government agencies are sparring over how to regulate genetically engineered livestock. The outcome could expedite foods like bacon from gene-edited pigs to grocery store shelves.

For the past quarter-century, scientists have been genetically modifying our food in an attempt to resist pests, boost crop yields, and extend shelf life. Now, farmers are pursuing the potential of gene editing, a newer technology, to produce animals that resist certain diseases, require fewer antibiotics, and have a smaller environmental footprint. (I wrote in November about how animal scientists are using gene editing to lighten cows’ coats in an attempt to make them more heat resistant.)

These animals could end up on your dinner table in the next few years if an eleventh-hour deal announced by the outgoing Trump administration goes through. On January 19, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed to a plan backed by U.S. meat producers to change how the government regulates genetically engineered animals. The agreement would shift the authority to approve such animals for sale from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The proposed change would apply to cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, catfish, and poultry.

Currently, the FDA regulates genetically modified animals as drugs. It considers a genomic alteration a drug because it changes the structure or function of the animal. In order to legally sell a genetically modified animal, producers need to show the FDA that they’ve done extensive safety testing. But industry groups and animal biotech companies say the FDA process is too onerous and discourages producers from bringing new and improved edited livestock to the market.

The HHS proposal could mean a smoother — and quicker — path to market. “The developers of genetically engineered animals are thinking that they’re going…

--

--

Emily Mullin
Future Human

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.