Researchers at the University of Geulph in Ontario, Canada have been working on a project called Enviropig since 1999. Their goal is to genetically alter a Yorkshire pig with specific DNA from mice and the E. coli bacteria, producing a pig that excretes about 50% fewer phosphates in its feces.
This aspect is great for the environment because pig feces are used by farmers as fertilizer. When it rains, the phosphates in pig manure find their way to underground water and pollute lakes, streams and ponds. Fewer phosphates in the water means less algae is produced that can starve fish of oxygen.
The researchers also want to introduce the pig for human consumption. That lofty goal is still a few years in the future, given the requirements from agencies like the FDA.
For years, there have been many opponents of genetically modified crops. GM crops are modified to be drought- and insect-resistant. They are also being engineered to increase yield, thereby making more food available.
Science is a great thing. But science and industry need to find a balance through ethics and regulations. Last year, there was a lot of contention about GM salmon. Now, it looks like pigs may find their way to your plate in the not-so-distant future.
Care2 blogger Sharon Seltzer raised a valid point that “…no one is considering that the GM salmon are real, living beings that will be affected by this process.” The same goes for pigs.
By altering a creature’s DNA, scientists are artificially expediting the Mendelian process. Currently, Enviropig ™ is at the ninth generation. Most likely, nature would never have mixed DNA from mice with pigs, and e. coli would never have found its way into the nucleus of a porcine ovum.
Then there is the quandary about animal welfare for farm animals. Wouldn’t genetically altering plants for a world food source be more humane than developing a super breed of pigs to feed the hungry? What’s next: GM cows, chickens and turkeys? Animals are already being exploited in factory farms.
With the earth’s human population about to break the 7 billion mark, addressing world hunger is a noble goal, and certainly finding ways to care for our environment by causing less pollution is just as important.
Why does it have to be at the personal expense of an innocent animal’s life, though? If humans are as brilliant and highly evolved as we think we are, there must be a way to solve world issues without forcing animals to bear the brunt of our experimental curiosity.
Flicker: Jon Bragg