This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Here’s the start of the story, from ABC Science: ‘Healthy bacon’ patents raise questions
Monsanto has filed patents that cover the feeding of animals soybeans, which have been genetically modified by the company to contain stearidonic acid (SDA), a plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid.
“The invention relates to the enhancement of desirable characteristics in pigs and/or pork products through the incorporation of beneficial fatty acids in animal feed or in animal feed supplements,” reads one patent application….
This story raises a whole slew of ethical issues: from genetic modification of plants (for animal feed), to the patenting of life forms, to contentious health claims (explicit or implied). The ABC story focuses on patenting, but my interest (here) is on the health claims angle. But it turns out the two issues are related, given that (according to the legal experts cited) the patentability of the pigs involved here depends at least in part on whether their meat can be shown to have some positive health effect.
But what will raise eyebrows among nutrition experts (or maybe just anyone with a bit of common sense) is the idea of ‘healthy bacon.’ It’s worth noting, of course, that there’s no smoking-gun quotation from Monsanto, here, claiming that the meat from their innovative pig will actually be healthy. But the headline writer obviously took the bait. The new bacon is intended to have heightened levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and those are supposed to be good for you. So, presto! “Healthy bacon.” Yeah, right.
This, of course, is just a fancier version of a phenomenon we’ve already seen — food companies bragging about the trace vitamins in their sugary cereals, or the calcium in their chocolate milk. The point is not that these claims are false — they’re not — but that they’re misleading. If anyone buys omega-3 bacon because they think it’s going to be good for them (and yes, there will be such people) they will have been misled in a dangerous way. And as new and more sophisticated technology comes to be applied to food, we’re only going to see more of this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no luddite. I’ve nothing against technology. But the food industry (and, surely, regulators) are going to have to adapt to new possibilities and adopt new and more sophisticated understandings of their obligations if they’re going to serve consumers well.