People who believe eating genetically modified organisms will turn them literally into what they eat are in for a new nightmare - genetically engineered animals.

Highly ironic case of misinformed alarmist sprouting antlers, snout reported to FDA

The Food and Drug Administration issued a draft guidance on the regulation of genetically engineered animals today. (For those not well versed in the parlance of regulation, this is a document that describes FDA's current thinking on an issue. The agency alerts the relevant stakeholders that they can comment on the guidance, and then a final guidance is developed. This is not regulation, it's guidance - as the name implies, the document guides stakeholders in what actions they should take.)

cowsOn certain issues FDA wants the public in particular to weigh in and releases a consumer update. The press release says, "Although the guidance ... is aimed at industry, FDA believes it may also help the public gain a better understanding of this important and developing area. The guidance explains the process by which FDA is regulating GE animals."

They attempt to stave off arguments that genetic engineering is crazy futuristic voodoo by stating, "Genetic engineering is not a new technology. It has been widely used in agriculture, for example, to make crops like corn and soy resistant to pests or tolerant to herbicides. In medicine, genetic engineering is used to develop microbes that can produce pharmaceuticals. And in food, genetic engineering is used to produce enzymes that aid in baking, brewing, and cheese making."

FDA also notes that conventional engineering has been around for a while: "Although conventional breeding methods have been used for a long time to select for desirable traits in animals, genetic engineering is a much more targeted and powerful method of actually introducing specific desirable traits into animals."

Not just a better burger

GE animals, originally developed in the 1980s, can make all aspects of human and animal life better, FDA says. Animals themselves may be more resistant to harmful diseases (the udderly awful infection mastitis in cows, for example). Medicines can be produced in large quantities through engineering animals - egg-based vaccines, anyone? Animal parts can be used for transplantation. GE animals are also more 'green' than their conventional counterparts, requiring less feed. Finally, animals that produce food products - meat, milk, etc - can be engineered to produce healthier products, like omega-3 fatty acids in pork.

GE animals can benefit humans indirectly as well. Check out the picture of a USDA research proejct - these adorable GE baby goats, little furry marvels of scientific progress, will express spider silk proteins in their milk. Spider silk proteins, you say? Yes, proteins produced in these goats' milk can be used to create silk fibers for use in artificial ligaments, bulletproof vests, and more.

What else can these little guys do? Well, FDA says in the draft gudiance, in addition to the uses listed above, GE animals can be used to"enrich or enhance the animals’ interactions with humans (e.g., hypo-allergenic pets) [and] develop animal models for human diseases (e.g., pigs as models for cardiovascular diseases)."

labradoodle So, you pet lovers who vehemently oppose genetic engineering but have pet allergies - what to do? Provide a loving home to Lassie the Labradoodle and swallow your pride, or live a long, lonely life sans pet?

And what about Atkins diet followers, or steak lovers? Do you go vegan, if GE animals take over the market, or do you fire up the grill?

Some of these quandaries are years away, of course. But the sooner the public educates itself on the benefits of genetic engineering - and how GE has already benefited their lives without their knowing it - the faster I can sit down to a delicious dinner of GE steak and potatoes.

FDA Q&A for consumers: click here.

FDA GE Fact sheet: click here.

Fancy FDA graphic showing how GE animals can produce human drugs: click here.