This image of soybeans is a work of a United States Department of Agriculture employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties, and is therefore in the public domain.

Amongst humankind, there has always been conflict between the omnivores (who eat a varied diet including animal and plant products) and carnivores (William Klitz; Briana Pobiner) (who would probably like nothing better than to eat only meat) on the one hand, and those that eschew animal-based foodstuffs such as the vegetarians (Tim Newman) and vegans (Jenessa; Jeffrey Kluger) (and fruitarians (Martina Spaeni, etc.) on the other (Tim Newman). Whilst much of that is on ethical grounds – think ”meat is murder” (Gail Flug; Julia Halpert; Raj Patel; Peter Adamson; Sue Earle) – there are also strong reasons why plant-based nutrition is better for the environment.

For instance, the 2013 report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimated that it takes 15,415 gallons of water to make 1 kg of beef-steak compared to 1,608 gallons for 1 kg of bread from wheat flour (Table 1, p. 12).** With great pressures on vulnerable freshwater supplies at present (Fiona Harvey; Steven Gorelick & Julie Padowski – with agriculture accounting for >90% of humanity’s fresh water footprint (PW Gerbens-Leenes et al.) – and fears over future water security (Claire Klobucista & Kali Robinson), that’s a powerful argument against using this essential liquid for water-inefficient human nutrition purposes such as beef production. Similarly, the removal of forests to make way for grass-dominated pastures (Alice Field) for grazing and raising livestock such as beef cattle*** presents a number of issues, not least of which is replacement of CO2-consuming vegetation with methane-producing cows, with its impacts upon global warming.

Recognising that there are those who can’t give up on their ‘meat-fix’, and that there’s profit in being more environmentally-sensitive, it’s little surprise that enterprising entrepreneurs are exploring ways to create plant-based meat-tasting substitutes (Mariana Lamas) that are kinder to the environment (Sheril Kirshenbaum & Douglas Buhler). One such innovation, offered by Moolec Science, is called “Piggy Sooy” (Gaynor Selby & Benjamin Ferrer). In this example of ‘molecular farming’ (Jill Ettinger; Clara Rodríguez Fernández; Leonardo Paradisi), the company genetically-engineered soy (Glycine max) with genes from the pig [which animal gives us such meatilicious products as pork chops, ham, and bacon] for “key animal proteins that provide texture, flavor, and nutrition” (Adele Peters). Seemingly the animal-derived genes are only expressed in the seed, the genetically-modified soy plants can make seeds that contain between 5% and 26.6% porcine protein. Producing the protein in the plant rather than the pig means that the carbon footprint of the animal protein could be around 60 times lower than the more conventional route (Adele Peters) – and maybe carnivores can have a meaty meal free from guilt that they’re destroying the planet.

However, this sort of genetic manipulation in which ‘animal genes’ are added to ‘plant genes’, raises questions. To be fair, all genetic modification does, but some that are most pertinent here relate to ethical/religious matters. Is a plant that contains genetic material that was ultimately derived from an animal still a plant? Or is it some kind of cross-kingdom chimeric organism? If Piggy Sooy soy is now part-animal, presumably vegans and vegetarians couldn’t – or wouldn’t, rather – eat it. But, are genes ‘plant’ or ‘animal’ (or ‘bacterial’, ‘algal’, fungal…)? Surely, they’re just bits of DNA, chemicals that fall outside of any biological taxonomic considerations? Furthermore, since the genes in all known life-forms use pretty much the same genetic code to make proteins – which is why transferring genes between species works – they cannot be considered ’plant’ or ‘animal’, etc. And, once integrated within – by whatever method or technology – an organism, they become part of that entity, be it animal or plant or whatever. On that basis, Piggy Sooy is just a soy PLANT with some additional genes that happen to have been provided by a pig in this instance.

But, if we acknowledge that Piggy Sooy is a sort of hybrid pig-plant organism, what are the consequences if any part of it is eaten by members of groups,**** religious or otherwise, for whom consuming pork is prohibited? For example, followers of Judaism (Beth Rush; Ronit Vered) or Islam (Ali Al Saloom; Haniya Hassan). Or the repercussions for those whose adherents are traditionally advocates for, and usually devotees of, an animal-free diet, such as Hindus (Mat McDermott) and followers of the Jain faith.

Maybe some of these concerns will be addressed by prominent labelling of the plant and products Piggy Sooy appears in so those who need to avoid it can be appropriately informed and do so? But, what about this scenario – however ‘left field’ it may seem – of, oh, I don’t know, pollen from Piggy Sooy flowers ‘escaping’ and fertilising a wild, non-porkified soy plant? Will the offspring of that cross be part porcine? What if that plant or any of its parts is inadvertently eaten by a human non-pork or non-meat eater? I’d better stop here because this all looks like a terribly complicated conundrum, resolution of which is way above my pay grade. All I can say is that what potentially started out as an environmental-sensitive way of giving meat-eaters what they desire is turning into something of a can of worms [Ed – which is presumably another reason why vegetarians won’t eat it…].


Gerbens-Leenes, P.W., Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2013) “The water footprint of poultry, pork and beef: A comparative study in different countries and production systems,” Water Resources and Industry, 1–2, pp. 25–36. Available at:

Vered, R. (2010) “Prescribing pork in Israel,” Gastronomica: the journal of food and culture, 10(3), pp. 19–22. Available at:

* Which means to “eat ravenously; gorge oneself” – as one might do with a meal of soybeans, but which also alludes to pig, the animal, which is a major feature of this blog item. It’s Mr P Cuttings’ attempt at making a pun.

** Although, and for some sort of balance on this issue, there are reports that beef production isn’t that bad regarding its water-consumption. For example, it is argued that most of the water consumed in beef production comes from naturally-occurring rainfall, which means that “the overwhelming majority of water attributed to beef production is rain that would have fallen regardless of whether cattle were being produced or grazing on the pasture where the water fell” (Lauren Manning).

*** In fairness to the subject matter of the main focus of this blog item, and somewhat ironically, it is worth pointing out that, after beef production, cultivation of soy is the second-biggest driver of tropical deforestation.

**** Reports I’ve read are quite clear that these piggy beans won’t be consumed in that form. Rather, the plan is to extract the pig-derived protein from the plant and use that in the manufacture of “animal-free meat alternatives that taste like the real thing” (Adele Peters).

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