Scientists at Virginia Tech University say that rats’ genes could makevegetables produce more vitamin C. When they introduced rat genes into thegenetic material of lettuces it caused the greens to increase theirproduction of vitamins by 700%.

Craig Nessler, who lead the research, says he does not expect to see theengineered lettuce for sale any time soon. “We are aware that vegetablescontaining rats’ genes would not meet the customer’s taste.” However, hehopes to develop his findings into a method that will eventually help fightundernourishment in Third World countries.

Rats were selected because they can produce vitamin C themselves, whilehumans no longer have this ability.

Meanwhile, the July 28 issue of New Scientist magazine reports that meatfrom genetically-altered pigs was stolen and turned into sausage that waseaten by nine people in Florida. This may be the first time that people inthe U.S. have eaten genetically modified meat. “It’s the only case of itskind we know of,” says Donald Ralbovsky of the National Institutes ofHealth.

Florida prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incident, whichbegan when a University of Florida employee stole 3 dead experimental pigs.Unaware of the meat’s origin, a butcher made sausages out of it. HelenGriffin, who ate about 5 pounds of the sausages with a friend, thought they”tasted real good.”

No ill effects were reported from people who ate the sausage, and NIHofficials are trying to figure out if the meat was a health risk. The pigshad been genetically modified to carry a copy of the rhodopsin gene, whicheffects eye function. Philip Collis, a biosafety officer at the university,says it is unlikely the rhodopsin gene would have made the meat dangerous.

If there was any concern, says Collis, it’s that the pigs were injected withbarbiturates before they were killed. The drug could have triggered anadverse reaction in those eating the meat. In the future, GM animals at theuniversity will be spray painted after being killed, to make it clear theyshould not be eaten.

Government officials, who admit they are unable to keep genetically modifiedStarLink corn out of the food system, have been insisting that it’s safe toeat. But now an independent scientific panel says there is a “mediumprobability” that a protein in StarLink corn is a human allergen. In areport submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the panel saidthat because it could not rule out potential harmful effects from exposureto the protein, it would not recommend a minimum tolerance level forStarLink in other foods.

“For the near future, EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) will maintain their efforts to divertStarLink corn away from the human food supply,” the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) said in a statement.

Last year, the nonprofit Genetically Engineered Food Alert showed thatStarLink had contaminated the human food supply, forcing the recall of morethan 300 food products and costing farmers, food processors and the grainindustry millions of dollars in lost profit.

Consumer confidence in genetically engineered foods is currently very low.In June, an ABCNews.com poll found that 52 percent of respondents believedthat engineered foods are “not safe to eat.” Just 35 percent of respondentsexpressed confidence in engineered foods. In contrast, a Gallup pollconducted in summer 2000 showed that 51 percent of respondents believed thatengineered foods posed no health hazard.

The complete report from the EPA’s scientific advisory panel is available by clickinghere.

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