This past March, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared beef from two gene-edited cattle low-risk and potentially safe to eat. They added that this kind of beef could possibly be on the market in two years. Called PRLR-SLICK cattle, they became genetically edited using a tool called CRISPR to shorten their hair to tolerate heat better. Although meat from these edited animals aren’t going to appear on store shelves in the near future, the FDA has already determined this kind of product as low-risk. As in, the FDA has given permission for the developer to begin marketing the product without further FDA testing.
“Today’s decision underscores our commitment to using a risk and science-based, data-driven process that focuses on safety to the animals containing intentional genomic alterations and safety to the people who eat the food produced by these animals,” said Steven M. Solomon, D.V.M., M.P.H., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “It also demonstrates our ability to identify low-risk IGAs that don’t raise concerns about safety, when used for food production…” 
FDA Deems Gene-Edited Cattle “Low-Risk”
The verdict of “low-risk” is not the same as “safe,” but it does mean the risk to safety is low enough for the FDA to not enforce further approval.
“[Low-risk assessments] are like speeding laws,” says Laura Epstein, senior policy adviser at FDA’s CVM. “If you’re going 1 mph over the speed limit, is somebody going to pull you over? Probably not, because you’re not really posing the kind of risk that somebody going 10 mph over the speed limit is. In the case of PRLR-SLICK cattle, we determined that they are really low risk. It doesn’t make sense for the FDA to use its limited resources on products we can see are a low risk.” 
PRLR-SLICK cattle became the third green-lit genetically-altered animal, after salmon and pigs. Genetically altered crops, such as corn and soybeans, also got green-lit. But unlike the salmon and pigs, these cattle garnered approval a lot faster. This is mainly because their genetic makeup is similar to other cattle; plus, the short-hair gene appears naturally in other breeds.
“In this particular case we were able to rely on molecular data demonstrating the IGAs were equivalent to mutations that are observed in conventionally bred cattle with the same phenotype or same trait,” said Heather Lombardi. She’s the director, Division of Animal Bioengineering and Cellular Therapies at FDA. “There’s evidence of a history of safety and no food safety concerns from the alteration or how it was introduced. There is also a low risk to the environment.”
How to Genetically-Edit Beef
Alison Van Eenennaam, Extension specialist in animal biotechnology and genomics at the University of California, explained that developers created a double-stranded break in the DNA helix to make this trait of shorter hair.
“Editing allows you to go to a targeted location in the genome, to a particular gene that you want to modify and introduce a double-stranded break in the DNA,” says Van Eenennaam. “When the cell repairs, as cells do, and they see a double stranded break, you get a repair that’s not the same as what it was before. It was cut with genome editing reagents. And that can lead to an inactivation of the gene, basically knocking out that gene.”
According to Van Eenennaam, the tool CRISPR uses a guide RNA that dictates where the “molecular scissors” should cut along the DNA strand.
According to Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, the review took several months. Although this beef has yet to enter the market, he said there’s no reason to label it differently than meat from other cattle. However, if the company wants to market genetically altered meat as having unique benefits, it would probably need the full approval process by the FDA. “This opens up a completely different pathway,” he said.
Also, the shorter-coat gene edit in the cattle can pass down to their offspring via semen and embryos. This can make meat production more sustainable and more humane for animals in warmer weather. However, the company has yet to expand on these claims.