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INRA reports to the legal authorities that it sold an animal bred in the context of a research programme

A ewe lamb born to a genetically-modified mother in the context of a medical research programme was sold to a private individual in the Paris region in October 2014.  Although this lamb presented no risk to humans or the environment, the Institute has just informed the Public Prosecutor's Office in Meaux of this violation of the French Environment Code.  This event had in fact been concealed by an INRA employee.

Updated on 06/23/2015
Published on 06/23/2015
Keywords: GFP - sheep

Born in the context of a research programme on human cardiology (see insert) being carried out by a research unit and experimental facility at the INRA Centre in Jouy-en-Josas (Yvelines), a ewe lamb from a genetically-modified mother was shipped on 5 August 2014 to a partner abattoir (1) and then its carcass was sold to a private individual on 28 October 2014.

A research programme in human cardiology

The research programme that gave rise to the ewe lamb thus sold was designed to understand, in sheep (a "model" animal for humans), how cells could be grafted to restore deficient cardiac function following a myocardial infarction.  To evaluate the viability of such grafts (site and evolution of the cells used), it was necessary to employ animals expressing a substance called Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), which renders their cells fluorescent.  Obtained from a jellyfish (Aequorea victoria), this protein is wholly non-toxic and is widely used in research protocols on cancer or in the field of orphan diseases.  The discovery and applications of GFP were acknowledged in 2008 by a Nobel Prize.

The ewe lamb put on the market did not express this protein.

This breach of Article L 536-4 of the French Environment Code (2) was concealed from the Research Centre's managers by the employee until 5 November 2014. After informing the appropriate Ministries (3), INRA carried out an immediate internal administrative inquiry in December 2014 and the necessary measures were implemented very rapidly (suspension of the sale of all livestock, suspension as a precaution of the staff member who concealed the sale, a halt to all experiments by the research unit concerned and the destruction of all its genetically-modified materials).  The resulting report issued in April 2015 highlighted certain stresses and dysfunctions within the unit looking after the ewe lamb, as well as individual behaviours incompatible with the missions of a public service research institution.

Without prejudicing any ongoing disciplinary procedures, INRA took responsibility for this event (4) because of the gravity of the individual actions mentioned above, and reported the facts to the Public Prosecutor's Office in Meaux on 15 June 2015, providing all the information and documents it held concerning the case.

Under current regulations, this ewe lamb was qualified as a group I genetically modified organism "involving risks to human health and the environment that are null or negligible" (5).  The research unit managing the scientific project was fully accredited for such activities.

Faced with this unprecedented incident, INRA has acted in a wholly transparent manner in terms of the actions and procedures implemented, and in accordance with the values it has been defending for nearly 70 years.

 

 

(1) Some research projects require the implementation of experimental protocols on animal models which comply with European and French regulations regarding animal experimentation and welfare.  To obtain these animals, some INRA units, including the Joint Animal Experimentation Unit (UCEA) in Jouy-en-Josas, rear their own livestock.  The animals selected for research are then isolated, while those that are "supernumerary" are sold in compliance with the regulations applicable to livestock farms.
 
(2) Article L 536-4 of the French Environment Code, prohibits "the sale of any product consisting of genetically modified organisms or containing such organisms."
 
(3) Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry, Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research, Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Women's Rights.

(4) Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure  provides that "Any established authority, public officer or civil servant who while carrying out their duties becomes aware of a crime or offence, is required to inform the Public Prosecutor's Office immediately and to transmit to this magistrate all related information, official statements and documents."

(5) Confined use of genetically modified organisms: French Environment Code

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