A Canadian University that has been developing a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs for the past 17 years, recently announced that it would abandon the project for now. Trademarked as the “Enviropig,” researchers claimed that the swine would digest plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs, rendering its feces less toxic to the streams and rivers where it inevitably ends up.
Because phosphorus is the major nutrient enabling algal growth, it is the leading cause of fish kills resulting from anoxic conditions, and reduced water quality. But in order to achieve this environmentally-friendlier poop, the pig was engineered with genetic material from a mouse to reduce phosphorous in its feces (something that wouldn’t even be necessary if pigs were allowed to forage for roots, bulbs and tubers as nature intended, instead of being force fed grain and soybeans).
Unfortunately for Enviropig, the hog industry group Ontario Pork decided to stop funding the GM pig research at the University of Guelph. The university is now closing down its active research and ending its breeding program of GM pigs.
“It’s clear that consumers oppose GM animals so we’re relieved the project is being shelved. The GM pig was going to drive consumers away from eating pork if it was ever approved for market,” said Paul Slomp, Youth Vice-President of the National Farmers Union. “This GM pig fiasco could have permanently damaged our domestic and international pork markets.”
Cecil Forsberg, an emeritus professor of molecular and cellular biology at the university, and a co-inventor of the pig, said he agreed with the decision. When the first such pig was created in 1999, “I had the feeling in seven or eight or nine years that transgenic animals probably would be acceptable. But I was wrong,” Dr. Forsberg said.
As of today, no genetically engineered animals have been approved for use in the food supply, although plans for franken-salmon get closer to approval everyday. Despite multiple consumers opinion polls that say the public would prefer to know if a food is genetically modified or not, both the U.S. and Canadian governments refuse to implement mandatory labeling laws.
Image via University of Guelph