A lamb genetically modified to contain a jellyfish protein has entered the food chain in France, plunging Europe's top agricultural research institute into crisis.
A judicial inquiry has been launched to find out how Rubis, a female lamb belonging to the French national institute for agricultural research (Inra) ended up on dinner plates.
Destined for animal research only, the lamb was sold to an abattoir in November 2014 along with unmodified sheep and then onto an unsuspecting customer, who has not been identified to date.
The sale and consumption of any genetically modified food products for humans is illegal in France.
Rubis was the fruit of Inra's so-called "green sheep" programme launched in 2009 to produce lambs genetically modified to contain a green fluorescent protein originating from a jellyfish.
The proteins make the skin transparent and give off a greenish glow when exposed to certain ultraviolet light. Typically, they are used to monitor the activity of altered genes, and in this case to monitor transplants for heart disease.
An internal probe into the huge slip-up suggests foul play on the part of an employee acting out of revenge after a dispute with a colleague.
While Rubis was a class 1 GMO, in other words containing a gene posing "no or negligible risk" to humans, Gérard Pascal, a former Inra biochemist, said its introduction into the human food chain was "intolerable".
"Beyond the ethical issues, one cannot put foodstuffs into the market that haven't been the subject of deep research. Until they've been studied, one cannot assess the risk," he said.