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‘Jellyfish-lamb’ sold as meat in France

 AFP/File | French authorities are looking into how a lamb genetically modified with jellyfish protein was sold as meat to an unknown customer
AFP/File | French authorities are looking into how a lamb genetically modified with jellyfish protein was sold as meat to an unknown customer

Revenge, goes the saying, is a dish best served cold. That is unless you’re a disgruntled employee of a French animal research centre, in which case it is apparently a dish best served in the form of a genetically modified jellyfish-lamb hybrid.


The incredible story was revealed by French daily Le Parisien on Tuesday and details how a singular lamb, genetically modified to have jellyfish-like traits for medical research purposes, made its way on to the dinner plate of an unsuspecting consumer.

Called Rubis, the lamb was born in the spring of 2014 to a mother whose genetic makeup had been altered with a jellyfish protein known as GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) – designed to give her a fluorescent colour and transparent skin.

Rubis, in turn, had inherited these unusual characteristics.

Part of a programme at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Paris, the genetic changes were made to allow scientists to “visualize and study” experimental heart transplants carried out on the sheep, Le Parisien reported.

But in August 2014, Rubis somehow found her way to a nearby abattoir where she was slaughtered. The meat was then put on sale and bought by an unnamed customer in the Paris region.

"A female lamb born to a sheep that was genetically modified as part of a medical research programme was sold to a person in the Parisian region in October 2014," the INRA said in a statement, confirming the report in Le Parisien.

"Although this ovine does not present any risk to humans or the environment, the institute has just informed local prosecutors about this breach of environmental regulations.”

Disgruntled employee may be culprit

According to Le Parisien, the apparent mix up could have been down to the actions of a disgruntled employee who wanted to land his boss in hot water.

Citing “several sources”, the newspaper said that a staff member at the INRA charged with looking after the organisation’s livestock deliberately included Rubis among a number of “normal” animals in a delivery to the abattoir.

The employee then got his boss to sign the delivery note for the animals – unaware that Rubis was one of the animals sent to slaughter. It wasn’t until several days later that the boss realised what had happened, but decided not to tell his employers of the mistake.

More than a week after the meat had been sold for consumption, the employee alerted the INRA to what had happened, said Le Parisien.

INRA operates farms in order to produce animals for research. Not all animals end up being selected for experiments, however, and the organisation says these “spare” animals are sold for their meat.

A public health court in Paris is now investigating the case, a judicial source told the AFP news agency.

France remains one of the staunchest opponents of genetically modified (GM) food, ever since environmental protesters pressured the government into banning GM crops in the 2000s.

The European Union authorised the import and sale of 19 GM crops in April, but is likely to pass legislation allowing individual countries to block their use – in part thanks to demands from France.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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