Ever wondered what constitutes a “Franken-animal”? (No, Maltie-Poo and Shi-Corgis need not apply.)

So-called “Franken-animals” (AKA, “GE” or genetically engineered animals) are those engineered to include a few genetic fragments that, were it not for our artificial human intervention, would almost never find themselves nestled inside such a creature’s molecular blueprints.

These are the goats we mix with spider proteins so they’ll secrete a super-strong, Kevlar-like compound in their milk.

These are the mice we spike with cancer-susceptible genes so we can study the effects of our drugs against their tumors.

These are the pigs we use to produce pharma-grade fatty acids.

And, coming soon to a supermarket near you, these are the animals whose disease resistance and superior growth (among other traits) ostensibly make them better food production animals.

While some of us might argue that genetically engineered animals don’t make for better food, the FDA doesn’t necessarily agree.

In fact, the FDA is currently working out the details of its plan to police GE animals so they can imminently enter the food supply. In a November 1st JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine) news piece on the subject, this was the FDA’s take:

“[Genetically engineered animals represent] a cutting-edge technology that has significant implications, including real benefits, not just for human health, but also for animal health, such as developing disease-resistant animals,” said Dr. Bernadette M. Dunham, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The article goes on to explain:

[The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine] has worked with developers of GE animals to ensure that food from these animals does not enter the food supply until or unless the FDA authorizes such use.In the FDA guidance on regulation of GE animals, which focuses primarily on food animals, the agency defines GE animals as those containing a recombinant DNA construct to give them new traits. The FDA plans to regulate heritable rDNA constructs as new animal drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Developers of GE food animals would need to demonstrate that the rDNA construct is safe and effective in the GE animal, that food from the GE animal is safe for human consumption, and that the GE animal does not pose environmental risks.

There you have it. Cutting edge technology designed for the cutting edge of our silverware. And the FDA is there to make sure that…

1)    It’s edible.

2)    It’s safe.

3)    You’ll never know which of those burgers came from a genetically engineered animal.

That’s right, a big part of the FDA’s plan is to keep us in the dark about which meats and animal products came from GE creatures.

I mean, if they’re deemed safe by the FDA, why need we ever know? Why, indeed, require that producers label their Franken-food as such?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing Franken-burgers or Franken-eggs as necessarily unhealthy. In fact, if you believe some of the hype in favor of GE animals, they’re probably more likely to improve human health than their higher fat, higher cholesterol cousins.

But what about the animals?

Can genetically engineered animals, as the next logical step in high-tech factory farming methodology, really deliver when it comes to what drives animal welfare minded consumers like us? Or is it simply serving an industry that wants to see humans consume more cheap meat?

I can’t imagine that any producer is working on a way to modify genes so chickens don’t cannibalize one another. I’m sure they’re not making it easier to keep pigs in reasonably sized enclosures. No, they’re just looking for a way to get more out of every chicken, sow, steer and cow they can cram onto their lot.

I don’t think anyone (including the FDA) would disagree with me on this point. (Though they probably wouldn’t give it my snarky spin.)

As such, can I take any of the FDA’s industry a$$-kissing ways seriously? Should it not irk me that consumers are, yet again, being kept out of the loop when it comes to disclosing the ways in which producers bring their widgets to market?

Consumers don’t necessarily want to eat Franken-food from genetically engineered animals. Some of the rationale behind our aversion is logical. In other cases…not so much. But consumers DO deserve to be given a choice…don’t we?