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The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it isn’t testing for mRNA in meat or poultry, the food products it oversees, and told us there are no mRNA vaccines approved or under trial for cattle. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees milk products and confirmed there are no tests involving mRNA.
The video in the post misrepresents a recent study that used cow’s milk molecules to stabilize mRNA to inject into mice and elicit an immune response. The research didn’t show, as the clip claims, that mRNA can be ingested via milk and cross the gastrointestinal barrier into the bloodstream.
Chances are minuscule that mRNA vaccines could transfer to people who consume food products from vaccinated animals, experts said. Messenger RNA breaks down quickly, and federal rules don't allow for meat or milk to be harvested from animals until recent vaccines have been metabolized.
Messenger RNA technology was key in creating vaccines against COVID-19. But are U.S. federal agencies now testing out its use in food?
So says a May 2 Instagram video: "mRNA in food is being tested by USDA now," reads text overlaying a video of what looks like a news interview with a doctor.
The video itself makes no mention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But it does show Dr. Peter McCullough, a Texas cardiologist who has promoted misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, discussing a study that he said showed that researchers were able to add and stabilize mRNA in milk and give it to mice over different feedings.
"The messenger RNA got into the mice’s system, and they produced antibodies in response to the protein made from that mRNA code," McCullough said in the clip. "So, they have proved positive now that messenger RNA can be ingested and get across the gastrointestinal epithelial lining and into the bloodstream. This is a new dark phase of messenger RNA exposure to human beings."
The post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
There is no evidence that the food supply contains mRNA vaccines, or that the federal government is testing mRNA in food. The USDA said it is not testing for mRNA in meat or poultry, the food products it oversees. The agency added that there are no mRNA vaccines approved or under trial for cattle.
Milk is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency confirmed that it "does not test for mRNA in milk."
McCullough appears to be referring to a March 2023 Chinese study, but misrepresents the research.
The study tested an oral mRNA vaccine based on cow’s "milk-derived exosomes." Exosomes are fatty vesicles (or lipids) in milk and many bodily fluids. So, the mice weren’t exactly given milk, experts said, but milk was used as a source. And although the study was evaluating an oral mRNA vaccine, the mice didn’t get it into their systems by consuming it.
Robert Garry, a Tulane University microbiology and immunology professor whose research specialties include virology, said the video’s description of the study is inaccurate. Garry said the researchers didn’t give the mice the mRNA orally, but bypassed the stomach and injected the exosomes into the intestine.
"None of this is true. The researchers did not show that the exosome formulation was orally available," Garry said. "They did not show that the mRNA can be ingested and then get across the GI barrier and into the bloodstream. Also worth noting that mice are not human beings."
Meanwhile, there is no widespread use of mRNA vaccines in livestock in the United States, experts said, and giving animals vaccines does not equate to putting mRNA in food.
Even when vaccines are given to animals, chances are minuscule that they could transfer to people who consume the harvested food products. MRNA vaccines "rapidly disappear after injection, and the components will be gone within a few weeks at most," John Moore, a Cornell University microbiology and immunology professor, previously told PolitiFact. He said that even if the components somehow remained in the meat they "would be almost instantly destroyed by the acid and the enzymes in our stomachs."
Research for developing mRNA vaccines for livestock is in the early stages. A February 2022 study from China said that the vaccine technology has been used in animal clinical trials to test its effectiveness against infectious diseases such as rabies.
Federal rules also don’t allow certain food products to be processed from vaccinated animals until the shots have been metabolized. These USDA guidelines stipulate that neither meat nor milk can be harvested from animals receiving any vaccines until several weeks after the injections.
"Withdrawal times are intended to ensure meat, milk, or other products for human consumption from the vaccinated animal are free from adjuvant or vaccine organism contamination," reads a 2014 document outlining the guidelines.
An Instagram post said the USDA is testing mRNA in food.
This is wrong. The USDA confirmed that it isn’t y testing mRNA in meat or poultry, the food products it oversees, and that there are no mRNA vaccines approved or under trial for cattle in the U.S. The FDA confirmed that it doesn’t test for mRNA in milk.
In the clip, McCollough misrepresents a study that used molecules from cow’s milk to stabilize mRNA that was later injected into the intestines of mice to eventually elicit an immune response. The research did not show, as McCollough claimed, that mRNA can be ingested via milk and cross the gastrointestinal barrier into the bloodstream.
We rate this False.
Instagram post, May 2, 2023
PolitiFact, No, mRNA vaccines aren’t widely used in livestock and can't get into the food supply, Jan. 23, 2023
USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, Vaccination for Contagious Diseases - Overview, 2014
USA Today, Fact check: Vaccines given to animals are metabolized before they are used for meat, milk, Feb. 15, 2023
Email interview, Marissa Perry spokesperson at the United States Department of Agriculture, May 5, 2023
Email interview, Robert Garry microbiology and immunology professor at Tulane University whose research specialties include virology, May 5, 2023
Email interview, Janell Goodwin spokesperson at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, May 5, 2023
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