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University of Guelph Enviropig Project Loses Funding

by 5m Editor
3 April 2012, at 11:00am

CANADA - While two groups on Monday were celebrating the winding down of the University of Guelph’s ‘Enviropig’ program, the university stressed even though it is phasing out its genetically modified herd, it continues seeking a market.

Since the 1990s, to reduce concerns about harm to the environment, the university has developed pigs that excrete lower levels of phosphorus. Excessive amounts of the nutrient cause algae blooms in water courses, threatening aquatic life.

According to Guelph Mercury, Ontario Pork decided last week at its annual general meeting to end enviropig research funding after more than a decade.

“We feel we’ve taken the genetics as far as we can,“ spokesperson Keith Robbins said Monday.

“We’re incredibly relieved,“ National Farmers Union youth vice-president Paul Slomp said, noting alternatives to genetically modified pigs exist.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, added the public’s generally not in favour of genetically modified food animals.

But university spokesperson Lori Bona Hunt said “research will continue,“ though the herd of 16 animals is no longer needed. With the science proven, the main focus now is on commercializing the enviropigs. She rebuffed predictions of the program’s demise.

Various mouse and bacteria DNA material is inserted into the genetic composition of enviropigs to cut phosphorus amounts in farm manure.

Ontario Pork funded the program to the tune of $1.2 million to $1.3 million during the years. Robbins said with the system proven, commercialization is the next logical step. But that hasn’t happened to date.

“Nobody from industry has stepped up at this stage,“ Mr Robbins said.

Ontario Pork will now spend its swine research dollars on promising areas such as production advances, competitiveness and consumer trends, as well as the public’s desire for new pork products, Mr Robbins continued.

Mr Slomp, of the farmers union, termed enviropig technology “redundant,“ noting there is a pig feed supplement readily available on the market that aids swine digestion so the animals excrete less phosphorus.

He added if genetically modified pigs were marketed, it might sully Canada’s reputation for all swine products among supermarket shoppers here and abroad who don’t want genetically modified pork and may not be able to distinguish between the two.

“Our concern is the consumer will move away from pork products in general and it will undermine consumer confidence in Canadian pork,“ Mr Slomp said.

Mr Sharratt said consumers have not expressed a desire for genetically modified meat, hog farmers oppose it and there appears little interest from the business community to promote it.

“This has been a difficult road for the university.“ She’s urging it stop seeking approval from regulatory authorities.

Ms Bona Hunt said that won’t happen. Applications remain open and active with Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on assessing the safety of enviropig consumer products and animal feed.

She said the university is looking at three options for the future of the enviropig program.

They are: commercialization through its business development department; continuing research through its banks of tissue and semen while euthanizing the herd; and handing the project over to a third party to take it further.