Could Canadian-made Enviropiggy go to market?
Call it Enviropig or Frankenswine, but a Canadian-made genetically enhanced pig could make its way on to North American dinner plates in the near future. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
Josh Visser, CTV.ca News
Published Saturday, September 25, 2010 6:48PM EDT
Call it Enviropig or Frankenswine, but a Canadian-made genetically enhanced pig could make its way on to North American dinner plates in the near future.
Developed by University of Guelph scientists, the pigs are genetically modified to better digest and process phosphorous.
Phosphorus is a pollutant in swine waste. By reducing the amount -- up to 60 per cent in tests -- the animals would be more environmentally friendly.
Manure made from swine waste can run into waterways, and the phosphorus in it can trigger algal blooms, killing fish.
Lead scientist on the Guelph project, biologist Cecil Forsberg, told CTV.ca the animal would also be cheaper to produce because farmers would not have to supplement the pigs' diet with either mineral phosphate or commercially produced phytase.
Forsberg said submissions have been made to both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada to see if the pigs are fit for human and animal consumption.
The submission to the U.S. agency was made in 2007 and is now in greater focus because the FDA is expected to approve the use of a genetically modified salmon for human consumption.
Forsberg says he and his colleagues have been watching that file for years and he is optimistic about what it means for the Enviropig.
"We're optimistic that the animals that we are submitting have characteristics that we expect them to be approved, but then of course, the developer is always optimistic," he said.
The salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies to grow twice as fast as its wild counterparts, would be the first genetically modified animal approved for the dinner plate.
Surveys have shown most Canadians are wary of eating genetically modified animals.
It is notable that the Enviropig is being developed by university scientists and not by a large commercial swine operation for that reason.
"The impression we have from the major swine breeding companies, is that they are not interested in the technology because of the social issues, and if a swine breeder would start working with (the technology), people would assume all pigs were transgenic pigs," Forsberg said.
Environment Canada has already reviewed the pigs and says they are not toxic under the Environmental Protection Act, Forsberg said.
But while many consumers are worried about eating genetically modified animals, chances are they have been eating genetically modified plants for years.
Genetically modified plants have been grown on more than two billion acres in 20 countries over the last decade or so. U.S. consumers eat them in large quantities, often in unmarked products such as oils or processed foods.
More than 80 per cent of soybean, corn and cotton acreage in the U.S. last year was genetically modified, a 2010 National Academies of Sciences study reported.
Other scientists will point out that even traditional breeding methods of animals have changed the food supply.
Old-fashioned breeding has led to turkeys that "can't have sex anymore because we've been breeding them for big chests," Martina Newell McGloughlin, director of the University of California's Biotechnology Research and Education Program, told The Associated Press.
"All of the animals, plants and microbes we use in our food system, our agricultural system, are genetically modified in one way or another," Bruce Chassy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign added. "That, or they