completely devoid of any viral gene products and it is incapable of replication. The transgenes, decoys, and RNAi are under the control of avian promoter sequences and Mx is a naturally occurring avian gene. ShRNA and decoys are short RNA stemloop sequences that are extremely unlikely to pose any risk to anything other than influenza virus itself. It is difficult to conceive of any realistic risk to human health associated with consumption of such transgenic food. Likewise, chickens carrying such transgenes pose no realistic environmental threat.
The prevailing sentiment portrayed by the U.K. media regarding genetically modified products is undeniably negative. However, the majority of the U.K. population are not absolutely against genetically modified organisms (GMO) as food. Most hold the correct view that each GMO must be rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis. The case for developing influenza-resistant chickens is a strong one on economic, public health, and animal welfare grounds. The risks are extremely small and will be thoroughly assessed. Nevertheless, at least for the foreseeable future in the United Kingdom, there would be significant resistance to the introduction of GMO chickens. Other countries are much more pragmatic about GMO food and are likely to welcome such a development more enthusiastically. Eliminating the chicken from the pandemic influenza equation might delay or prevent the next pandemic disaster. Even the most dire GMO scare-mongering scenario would seem trivial by comparison to a rerun of the Spanish Lady of 1918.
Michael L. Perdue3
Animal Waste Pathogen Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
Reprinted with permission, from Perdue (2003) Copyright 2002 by the American Association of Avian Pathologists