US regulators OK genetically modified pig for food, drugs

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This undated photo provided by Revivicor, Inc., a unit of United Therapeutics, shows a genetically modified pig. U.S. regulators have approved a genetically engineered pig for food and medical products, making it the second such animal to get the green light for human consumption – but United Therapeutics, the company behind, says it doesn’t there is no imminent plan to sell his meat. (Revivicor, Inc. via AP) This undated photo provided by Revivicor, Inc., a unit of United Therapeutics, shows a genetically modified pig. U.S. regulators have approved a genetically engineered pig for food and medical products, making it the second such animal to get the green light for human consumption – but United Therapeutics, the company behind, says it doesn’t there is no imminent plan to sell his meat. (Revivicor, Inc. via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) – U.S. regulators have approved a genetically modified pig for food and medical products, making it the second such animal to be given the green light for human consumption. But the company behind it says there is no imminent plan to sell it for meat.

Pork is genetically engineered to eliminate the presence of alpha-gal, a type of sugar found in many mammals. Sugar gets into many products – including drugs, cosmetics, and foods – and can cause allergic reactions in some people.

The main goal of the company behind the pig, United Therapeutics Corp., is to develop medical products, such as blood thinners, that will not trigger such reactions, its spokesperson Dewey Steadman said. Ultimately, the Silver Spring, Maryland-based company hopes to develop a way to transplant organs from pigs into humans.

The pork, called GalSafe, also has commercial potential as a feed, but Steadman said the company is unsure of when it might be able to make a deal with a meat producer to process and sell it. He noted that the meat allergy tackled by pork, called alpha-gal syndrome, is not yet considered a major problem.

“It’s known, but it’s not well known,” Steadman said.

Health researchers don’t fully understand how the allergy develops, but it has been linked to the bites of certain ticks. In 2009, 24 cases were reported, but more recent estimates exceed 5,000 cases, according to a report by a US Department of Health and Human Services task force.

Symptoms may include hives, itching, cramping, and vomiting. Unlike other food allergies, alpha-gal reactions usually occur several hours after eating beef, pork, or lamb, making diagnosis difficult.

Jaydee Hanson, director of policy for the Center for Food Safety, noted that meat from genetically modified pigs has not been tested in people with allergies.

“You offer it as something they can eat, not knowing if it addresses their allergy,” Hanson said.

The FDA said it did not assess food safety specific to allergies because the company’s request did not include data on the prevention of these reactions.

The Center for Food Safety sued the FDA over the first genetically modified animal approved by the Food Agency – salmon designed to grow faster. The group said it was reviewing the agency’s decision on pork GalSafe released on Monday.

Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the FDA approval of GalSafe pork announced on Monday is also of concern as it came without the possibility of public comment.

“No one has been notified, and all of a sudden there’s an approved animal,” he says.

The company has not disclosed exactly how it altered the animal’s DNA. Jaffe said the pig was produced by knocking …

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