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Bad news for bacon

 | July 28, 2010

Enviropig sounds like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World though, unfortunately this really is happening.

Enviropig is a genetically modified (GM) hog developed by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Although it’s been in development for about 10 years it hasn’t come to the attention of many until now.

The inspiration for Enviropig came from the need for less runoff pollution caused by factory pig farms. Enviropig has been modified to excrete less phosphorous, which supposedly will reduce the amount of pollution in waterways caused by these giant farming operations. This new pig will produce an enzyme called phytase in its salivary glands to help these animals better digest the foods they’re being fed, like corn and soy.

But is genetically modifying an animal really the answer? It’s a controversial issue that Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), says will not be accepted by consumers at home or internationally.

“Many consumers have grave concerns about genetically modified or genetically engineered foods and animals,” she says. “It’s a complex issue because it involves animals and Health Canada has no capacity to regulate GM animals for safety.”

It comes down to the food the animals are eating and the size of the operations they’re being farmed in. Many factory farms receive a lot of disapproval and there’s already a phytase supplement out there to help pigs digest the grains they’re fed, therefore reducing the phosphorous they excrete. But the Enviropig-which also contains a mouse gene-is a one stop solution, or that’s what the creators claim. The real solution, believed by Sharratt and shared by many farmers, is to reduce the size of these pork-producing operations and to feed the animals a better diet.

“Small farming is the future,” says Sharratt. “The hog industry is in a crisis right now because it’s not environmentally or economically sustainable.”

Ben Rainer, who works on a family farm near Barriere, B.C. says while he’s never been bothered by genetically modified products before, he knows that customers trust smaller family farms.

“Our customers buy the pigs from us because they know how and where they’re raised and in that sense we’re kind of separated from the mainstream market,” he says.

It’s up to consumers and pork producers to make the ethical choice of whether something like Enviropig should be allowed out for mass production. Sharratt suggests writing to Canada’s Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq ([email protected]) and the B.C. Pork Producers Association ([email protected]) to voice concerns.

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