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Japanese Researchers Successfully Breed Pigs with Vegetable Genes - 2002-01-25

Japanese researchers say they successfully bred pigs with vegetable genes. Japanese consumers are divided on the safety of this and other genetically modified foods.

Japanese scientists say their unprecedented combination of animal and vegetable may create meat with lower fat content. They inserted spinach genes into fertilized pig eggs and implanted them in the womb of a surrogate mother. She gave birth to healthy piglets with modified genes.

Akira Iritani is a professor of development biology at Kinki University in western Japan and the research team leader. "We used spinach because of its image as a healthy food and the fact that it is easy to extract high amounts of a gene called FAD-2 from spinach," Mr. Iritani said.

The gene changes about a fifth of the pigs' saturated fatty acids into healthier linoleic acids, so that their meat has less dietary fat than normal pork. In an age when many people are concerned about heart disease and other diet-related illnesses, such meat could have broad appeal.

But in Japan, as in Europe, many consumers fear that genetically modified foods are unsafe.

Namiko Ono represents a Tokyo group that opposes GM foods, and says the new meat raises both safety and ethical problems. "While we are familiar with vegetables that are genetically changed, in this case we are talking about an animal. It is ethically wrong to conduct such an experiment on pigs," Ms. Ono said.

The scientist, Mr. Iritani, says he hopes people will eat the new pork his team created, although he says the meat needs three to four years of safety tests.

Until then, Mr. Iritani and his colleagues are working to create pork that has even less saturated fat but that contains additional healthy substances from vegetables.