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February 6, 2024
My phone rang the other day. On the other end was Vernon Reipe, a farmer from Metropolis, Ill., with a story and a question. Vernon’s a semi-retired farmer with the kind of southern Illinois accent that sounds like the folks I grew up with.
Vernon had heard a rumor that mRNA is being injected into pigs via vaccines and is showing up in the meat we eat. His wife read it on the internet, and he said she’s been very precise in her predictions. In this case, folks on the internet insisted that like the COVID-19 vaccine, hog vaccines with mRNA meant the mRNA remained in the pork that we eat.
So, Vernon and I talked a little while. Turns out, he just wanted to know if this was true. He used to raise hogs and gave them all the shots his vet told him to give, and he thought maybe the Illinois Pork Producers Association might know about this mRNA. We had a great conversation; Vernon was open to the truth, even if it wasn’t what they had read online.
I made a few calls. First on the list was Jennifer Tirey, executive director at IPPA. I could feel Jennifer nodding through the phone as she confirmed that yes, they’d gotten a few calls about mRNA in pork. She also said it’s patently untrue.
It’s no surprise that something on the internet is false, especially when it comes to food and medicine. But how that came to be is sometimes the most interesting part.
Last spring, social media posts falsely asserted that farmers are required to inject livestock with mRNA vaccines and, without evidence, suggested that unsuspecting humans would consume the vaccine right along with their bacon.
A man in an Instagram video claimed, “I just recently read that farmers and ranchers are being told they must inject their livestock with the mRNA vaccine. What temperature do I need to cook my cow in order to get rid of the mRNA death jab vaccine thing?”
USDA spokesperson Marissa Perry told the AP, “There is no requirement or mandate that producers vaccinate their livestock for any disease. It is a personal and business decision left up to the producer and will remain that way.”
Veterinarians confirm there are no animal vaccines currently licensed in the U.S. that use the same mRNA approach as the human COVID-19 vaccine. There are some vaccines that use other RNA platforms, like one from Merck Animal Health. Those vaccines are targeted at respiratory illnesses and came out well before the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Then I called Rod Johnson, head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. I figured, if anybody’s gonna know about this stuff, it’s him. Johnson is a trained immunologist and a Galesburg, Ill., farm kid before that. That means he has scientific street cred and farm kid street cred — my favorite combination of cred.
He explained it like this: In the COVID vaccine, the messenger RNA, or mRNA, gets inside the host cell and provides instructions to produce a specific protein. The host cells start producing the “spike” protein; then our immune system recognizes it as foreign and develops antibodies to protect us. After that, the mRNA degrades rapidly and within several days is nonexistent.
“To my knowledge, no mRNA vaccines are available for use in beef cattle,” Johnson said, adding that Merck makes a swine vaccine based on RNA technology. However, he said, there’s very, very little chance of the mRNA winding up in meat, due to both the way mRNA degrades and the Food and Drug Administration-mandated withdrawal times on drugs — meaning producers must wait a certain number of days to market the pigs after administering the vaccine.
“It would not be an issue based on how quickly the mRNA degrades. It’s been thoroughly tested and approved by the FDA, so it’s safe when used according to instructions,” Johnson said.
What’s that mean for Vernon?
Johnson is clear: “The likelihood that mRNA from a vaccine would be present in animal protein is remote and not supported by science.”
Social media can be a tough place to discern truth. I did a quick search and found medical doctor and social media influencer Joseph Mercola peddling wild lies, including that food can be altered to act as a vaccine. Scroll through a few stories on his website and it’s clear nothing is safe to eat — except the supplements he’s selling. But you’ll probably have to pay to read the stories in his “censored library.”
His website is a study in how much money a person can make by scaring people. Maple Park, Ill., farmer Lynn Martz once famously said, “If you have to sell fear to sell a product, you don’t need to be in business.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene got in on the action, telling her followers that USDA has been “allowing self-replicating RNA and DNA to be injected into the American pork supply as a part of a genetic project,” adding that “the federal government should not be playing God.”
I guess she didn’t fact-check that with the Georgia Pork Producers or the Georgia state veterinarian.
All that to say, it’s no wonder people walk away from their computers or their phones with no real idea about what’s going on.
But that’s where my new friend, Vernon, comes in. He had questions. He picked up the phone and called. We found him the truth.
Philosopher and lecturer David Smith recently suggested two questions to help bridge divides, or in some cases, disagreements:
Are you willing to believe you are wrong about something?
Which do you value more: the truth or your own beliefs?
Tough questions. Because if I’m wrong about some things, then my beliefs are not synonymous with the truth. And if I value my own beliefs more than the truth, I’ll defend my beliefs to the death.
But if I value the truth — like Vernon? Then I’ll ask questions. And I’ll change my mind.
Comments? Send email to [email protected].
Read more about:Food Safety
Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress
Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.
An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.
Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.
Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.
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