An Environment-Friendly Pig to Go to Market?

US - Consumers are now offered an ecological reason to buy meat from genetically modified (GM) pigs. Opinions are clearly divided on the future of the enviropig. FDA is to rule soon on whether the genetically engineered pig, which can better digest phosphorus, may be reared and sold in the US.
calendar icon 18 November 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

It has been called 'Frankenfood' but backers of genetically engineered meat say it is just as tasty and safe for consumers as regular cuts from the butcher, reports Market Watch from an article in Medhill News Services.

We are not talking about mad scientists holed up in castles. Some of the biggest links in the food chain are expecting farm animals with altered DNA to end up on the dinner plate - unless the Food and Drug Administration says no.

The creators of 'Frankenfood' push health and costs benefits but diners also could be doing their part for the environment by gorging on modified pork chops in the not-too-distant future.

Canadian researchers have created a new breed of pig - dubbed enviropig - whose upgraded digestive system produces cleaner manure. The genetically engineered hog has not made it to the market yet because it has been penned in for years by regulatory obstacles in Canada and the US.

Pig farms produce giant lagoons of waste, which are then skimmed for natural fertilizer. But the manure contains high levels of phosphorus, a chemical that pigs have difficulty breaking down from their cereal-grain diet.

After being spread onto crops, excess phosphorus can trickle its way to surface and ground water. Where there is phosphorus in ponds, there is algae and the green muck can choke off oxygen in water and kill fish.

The enviropig keeps more phosphorus inside of its belly, reducing the concentration in manure by about 60%, according to developer, John Phillips. Its rewritten DNA code tells the salivary glands to pump out an enzyme that digests the chemical.

Cost Benefits, Health Concerns

Dr Phillips is joined by a slew of food producers who say genetically engineered meat can cut costs for both farmers and consumers. Potential applications include salmon that grow twice as fast and cattle resistant to mad cow disease. But first the Food and Drug Administration has to sort through reams of data and a bevy of health concerns. The FDA took a step toward approving genetically engineered meat with draft guidelines for approval in September, but there's no timeframe for a definitive stance.

Dr Phillips, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said the FDA's rigorous review process and full disclosure through clear labeling are needed for consumers to gain trust in the technology.

"I don't think we will call it green pork," Dr Phillips said at a panel discussion in Washington last week, "but nonetheless we think people should have the choice."

Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition, said he doubts shoppers will clamour for genetically engineered food right now.

"Consumers today are more aware than ever about where their food comes from," he said. But they might be persuaded given proper education and a transparent approval process, he said.

Other critics have focused on animal welfare.

Michael Greger of the Humane Society of the United States said farm animals already are pushed to their biological limits – from exhausted cows to monster turkeys that cannot even support their own weight – and cannot take more stress.

Mr Greger said some genetically engineered animals could be beneficial but called enviropig a 'Trojan pig' during the panel discussion – something the "industry can hold up while they slip past the really lucrative and potentially damaging applications," concludes the article.

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