Enviropig: the next transgenic food?
September 25th, 2010
12:00 AM ET
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"Snort! Snort!" The plump, pink beast comes rumbling towards me as I approach, then attaches its snout to my leg, sniffing intensely, apparently trying to determine if I bring food.

It looks like a Yorkshire pig, behaves, sounds and smells like one. But genetically the pigs at Canada's University of Guelph swine research laboratory are different. They are "greener", emitting a smaller quantity of pollutants in their manure. Thus, their creators named the species, “Enviropig.” And they hope one day the Enviropig’s descendents may be on your dinner plate.

“Certainly one of the goals of the technology is to produce a pig which could be consumed by humans and enter the food chain,” said Richard Moccia, Professor of Animal Science and Associate Vice President of Research at the University of Guelph. “We have done extensive testing on the various internal organs and different meat cuts from the Enviropig, looked at the nutritional content and the amount of protein and fat and minerals and other things contained in the pig. They're identical to a normal Yorkshire pig.”

What does "genetically modified" really mean?

But no one has ever eaten an Enviropig, said Moccia. It’s not permitted yet. Though scientists first produced the pig in 1999, the University of Guelph conducted extensive testing before applying for approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2007 and Canadian food and health regulators the following year. The University expects the FDA will be first to act and believe the agency is about half-way through its analysis, though the FDA won’t say.

"I think people are particularly concerned about genetic engineering right now and what I can tell the American public is that the FDA has a very rigorous process for assessing the safety of food from such animals, and that no food from a genetically engineered animal will go on the market unless the FDA has demonstrated that it's safe," said Larisa Rudenko of the Food and Drug Administration’s Animal Biotechnology Interdisciplinary Group.

The Center for Food Safety, which advocates organic farming, argues the Enviropig should not be a dinner option: hog farming needs to change, not pig genetics.

“It's a completely novel cell invasion technology where we are crossing the boundaries of nature as no other generation has before. And the question is whether that is safe, whether that is something that we should be doing ethically, those are very serious questions that we as a society need to be asking,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center.

How is genetically modified food labeled?

Before ruling on Enviropig, FDA will likely make a decision on genetically-altered Salmon. The fish, developed by Waltham, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, grows nearly twice as quickly as normal salmon. If approved it would be the first animal created in a genetics laboratory to be available for human consumption.

Simply producing genetically-modified pork chops, however, is not a motivation for scientists at Guelph. They’re trying to protect the environment and save hog farmers some money at the same time.

Pigs are polluters. It’s their manure that’s the problem. It’s packed with a plant form of phosphorous- called phytate- that’s contained in corn and other hog feed. Because regular pigs do a poor job of digesting phytate phosphorous much of it comes out in their manure.

That’s important because hog farmers use their animal’s manure as fertilizer. When it rains some of it runs off into the watershed. The phosphorous from hog manure promotes algae growth. Too much phosphorous will creating algae blooms that choke off oxygen in bodies of water – like Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico- creating “deadzones” where fish and other aquatic life can not survive.

The "Enviropig" has a more robust digestive system than its relatives, able to digest plant phosphorous on average 50% more successfully than ordinary pigs so its manure has a far lower concentration of phosphorous than that of normal pigs.

“The Enviropig is a technology to try to reduce the amount of phosphorous that leaves a pig farm. And if you can do that, you can also then reduce and control the amount of phosphorous that gets into the aquatic ecosystem, said Moccia. “So really what we're doing is using the genetic technologies in the pig to try to solve a phosphorous overloading problem into both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.”

Scientists added DNA from E. coli bacteria and from a mouse to a Yorkshire pig’s embryo to create the Enviropig. The E.coli bacteria gene allows the pig to digest plant phosphate, by allowing the pig to produce an enzyme called phytase in its saliva. The mouse gene acts to accelerate the process.

As a result, "Enviropig" does not require a feed additive that farmers provide to pigs to help them digest plant phosphorous. That’s where the cost savings can come in.

It’s less than $1/pig over its life time, according to the Ontario Pork Producers Marketing Board. But when you consider more than 70-million pigs are slaughtered for food each year in the U.S. and Canada, it can amount to a significant savings, which theoretically could lead to a slight reduction in price for consumers.

Ontario Pork producers have contributed more than $1 million to Enviropig research. Ontario’s provincial government also has invested in Enviropig research which has cost over $5-million.

That investment may yield a good return one day. University of Guelph scientists are talking with a company that hopes to bring Enviropigs to China. And, the school has received inquiries from a half dozen other Far Eastern countries.

What we choose to eat, where we buy our food and how much we spend on it says a lot more about who we are than you might think. Beginning Sunday, September 26, 2010, CNN Newsroom will launch a week-long series dedicated to healthy eating called, “Eatocracy: Mind, Body and Wallet,” kicking off with the rest of the Enviropig debate on CNN Cover Story, Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

soundoff (212 Responses)
  1. In home personal training Long Island

    I'll pass on the generically made pig.However i get why it was made. I just hope that they do all the testing they can on this pig to make sure it is safe. Keep the great posts coming CNN.

    January 10, 2014 at 6:01 pm |

    i like BACON !!!! GOOD WHEN YOUR HIGH~!

    May 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  3. Michael

    Well, the only reason we genetically modify our food or inject artificail growth hormones into them is, in root, simply because of our growing population (all of humanity), but this is not taking into account other (microeconomic) factors such as amibition or greed within a society...

    October 4, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  4. citizien422

    Looks like a pig, acts like a pig...

    but does it EAT like a pig?
    FDA approval would be all well and good, but, if these things can't get approval from say, a BBQ Pit Master, then all that research money is wasted.

    But, then again, perhaps the animal rights people have a point, and eating poor defenseless animals is wrong, how do we rectify the situation?

    Oh wait... I know.... Soylent Green for everyone!

    September 29, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
    • Dee


      The answer is not "soylent green", it's follow a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet – as many people do. It's healthier and more affordable than a meat-based diet, and more humane towards animals. Some famous vegetarians include Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, Charles Darwin, Clint Eastwood, Gandhi, to name just a few – so you will be in good company.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  5. kr

    This is beyond sad for so many reasons. The aim here is to allow factory farmers to continue to cram as many hogs as possible into their crowded warehouses, under the guise of less phosphorus in the poop makes us environmentally friendly? Great – more pigs (who are smarter than dogs and just as sociable and friendly) can be subjected to lives of abject misery. Phosphorus is only one reason these hog farms produce so much pollution. Fertilizer, nitrogen, and the sheer volume of waste will not be addressed. Who knows what long-term of eating genetically modified food will be? No one! This is another good reason to not eat meat.

    September 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Lovethem

    We raise a dozen pigs on pasture each year (along with some other self-sustaininggrass-fed animals), in timberlot like they love and eating grubs and microbes as they are intended, roots and tubers and wallow in the mud to scratch their skin. These are very happy, succulent piggies! ;-)

    Bc they are rotated to fresh pasture daily they do NOT smell, their manure does NOT touch a waterway, in fact, our chickens (aka pigswith wings if you think of their make up ha) follow behind to scratch out the grains, microbes and bugs that are attracted to the poop.

    Now, for some that seems disgusting, but guess what, that is what these animals are designed to be in their behaviors and diets. We feed them clabbered milk (raw milk and oats) and finish them on apples and walnuts – our customers LOVE the delicacy of the meat that is enhanced not only by their diet but bc happy animals make great tasting meat.

    We do NOT see any benefit to our world, the growing population or our fellow man to genetically mutilate an animal away from its origins into a franken pig; it is MISMANAGEMENT of CAFO type animal systems with centralized, overloaded manure systems that are the problem.

    Pigs are smart and fun to raise; just like other bottom dwellers like chickens and shrimp, their diet reflects how they assimilate it.

    Going vegan is not the answer if you really study the human body's need for nutrients found only in meat, people should be able to eat foods they are made to eat and producers should be able to raise them in responsible poly-cultures that support the environment instead of the poorly assimilated waste byproducts of moncultural ag.

    We have taught our children to remove themselves from the commerical food system for this reason, 'someone' has no problem poisoning us with wacked out food and we aren't going tos tick around the industiral food system to figure it out.

    September 29, 2010 at 12:47 am |
    • Dee

      @lovethem –

      That's great that you raise pigs in their natural environment. However, how old are they when you slaughter them? How much of their natural lives did they miss out on by being slaughtered at a young age? Pigs are very intelligent beings, not "meat." Why don't you grow vegetables instead, and keep your beautiful pigs as pets and enjoy their company? They would like to live out their natural lives, instead of being slaughtered at an early age to end up on someone's plate.

      September 29, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  7. Swamprattler

    being a vegetarian is not something I will ever think of being, There is nothing you can do to a plant to make it taste like meat. veggies make great side dishes for meat, as long as meat is the MAIN course. Beef pork, chicken and fish cannot ever take a back seat to leaves, stalks or roots.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Bobington

    MMM, tasty tasty bacon. So Tasty!!!

    September 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Ken

    Have you ever seen an apple tree suddenly start growing pigs?

    September 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  10. Megan

    Anyone else get super tired of hearing complaining about the ebil corporations? This is capitalism folks, I don't know what you were expecting. Buy it or don't, but stop acting like it's at all surprising.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  11. Fred

    Truth: Viruses re-write our DNA/RNA on a daily basis. They cause errors which result in obesity, cervical cancer, and many other disorders.

    The same thing is happening to livestock daily. Every time a virus enters a plant or animal there is a huge chance for mutation.

    We don't care about this because... well... it's natural. Not a thing we can do about it.

    Ever wonder why a species of say apple suddenly starts putting out a remarkably different apple on just one branch (this is called a sport, but is simply mutation at work). This is how many of our new plant and animal species have come to us.

    All that is happening with genetic manipulation is that humans are in control of the changes. Targeted changes. If it produces a toxin it's a failure. If the animal dies, it's a failure... just as in nature.

    Natural mutation is like walking along a deep rapid running stream looking for a tree that has fallen across to form a bridge. Genetic engineering is like building a sturdy wide bridge across the same stream that aids not only travel, but commerce.

    True enough, monsters happen. Due to a series of genetic mutations beginning around a million years ago an apex predator was born into this world which has ravaged plant and animal life in all environments on the planet. This mutation of African plains ape was called "man".

    As hunter gatherers we ravaged mega wildlife herds with spears and fire until they were EXTINCT. It wasn't until we learned to herd and farm that our impact on the biology of this planet began to minimize.

    We continued to refine those arts through selective breeding of both plants and animals, which has managed to reduce our impact on the planet.

    The next logical step, now that man is aware of our impact on the planet's biosphere, is to further lower our biological footprint using controlled genetic engineering to reduce our effect on the worlds ecosystems.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Not exactly...

      You may want to do some research on gmos and biotechnology.

      An apple tree may naturally be exposed to a virus and have a few interesting pieces of fruit because of it, but that apple tree will never have sections of DNA from an Atlantic pout (a fish) or some other species expressed within its own DNA 'naturally'. NEVER. Only through human interference and the adulteration of nature can that happen.
      And happen it does.
      There are examples of it in the American food supply EVERYWHERE.

      November 30, 2011 at 3:51 am |
  12. Dee

    Stop eating pigs! Pigs are extremely intelligent animals – more intelligent than dogs. They suffer terribly in factory farms and never enjoy their short lives, then they are slaughtered under the most horrifying conditions, fully aware of what is happening to them. Let these beautiful, intelligent creatures live out their lives naturally. We certainly do not have the right to genetically modify them. "Enviropig" is a complete misnomer, and more corporate lying. Shameful.

    September 27, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • kr

      All true and well said. Even stubborn meat eaters should support humane handling of animals, which can never occur with mass "production"

      September 29, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  13. JoefromVT

    Most disturbing is this statement by Moccia,

    “The Enviropig is a technology to try to reduce the amount of phosphorous that leaves a pig farm. And if you can do that, you can also then reduce and control the amount of phosphorous that gets into the aquatic ecosystem, said Moccia. “So really what we're doing is using the genetic technologies in the pig to try to solve a phosphorous overloading problem into both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.”

    The Enviropig is a technology..!?!? It is an animal, when we start seeing life of any kind as a technology we are on a serious slippery slope! I raise pigs and I don't have a problem with manure run off but I make sure that I do not exceed the carrying capacity of my land.

    September 27, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  14. 111222333LA

    The metabolic rate of the enviropig will have an affect on people's hearts...heartattacks!
    The pigs meat has already been tested on people and the gov just doesn't want people to know.
    Keep out of God's Lab!

    September 27, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  15. ScottyB85

    Sounds like the problem is the spreading of manure and not the pigs...Maybe a better fertilizer or application process should be developed.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  16. Gary Gardner

    I've been a vegan for about 20 years; I'm pushing 70 now. I really feel better and my conscience is clear.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Poor plants. :-(

      September 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  17. Fllay

    Okay... not eating fish, now not eating pork... I hope they don't touch chickens and cows anytime soon.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  18. steve

    I wonder if you will here the environmental groups sound off about GM pigs as they did with GM salmon..hmmmmmmm.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  19. sue

    What about the pig itself? Will it have a normal lifespan if it wasn't in a factory farm? Will it get weird diseases or organ malfunctions if you were to keep it as a breeder?

    I'm no vegan. I like meat. I eat meat. I raise my own meat. BUT! the animals all are given a quality life even if it is short. What would be in store for poor FrankenPig?

    Did anybody bother looking ahead?

    September 27, 2010 at 5:18 am |
  20. worried4us

    If you haven't yet seen it, you should take a look at a film called "Future of Food". It's available free on Hulu.com. It's a scary look at how chemical companies are taking over our food supply. They patent seeds right now and I can see how they might one day patent pigs too. They are certainly NOT doing this for the good of the planet. It's all about the money. At any rate, take a look at the film if you get a chance. It's an eye opener. :(

    September 27, 2010 at 3:54 am |
  21. Since You Asked...

    Even though they may look similar on the outside (according to you), with today's advancements in technology it has become quite simple: we take a DNA sample from the animal in question and compare it to a know sample (your mom's DNA). If it matches above a certain threshold then we have a real pig!

    September 27, 2010 at 12:30 am |
    • Wowwowwow

      Ha! You are what you eat, right??

      September 27, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  22. Average Dude

    Yes LuvhUrt, let's all get back to the good old "natural" ways. It's almost dinner time, so we better gather some hunters and head into the forest to try to catch a wild pig. In the mean time, the children can grab some berries and the women may clean up the trash from the cave.

    September 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  23. LuvUrth

    Get real! So much money is being wasted on this GM crap. I guess it is easier for these "scientists" to set in labs and spend billions of dollars on useless most likely harmful (to the subjects including us) technologies rather than to get out in the field grow fresh foods. Which, by the way, is what everyone needs more of not some modified pig. This is not euphoria though, so everyone can't just realize that live (enzymatic rich foods) are what keep us healthy forever and commit to a 75 %fresh food diet that they can grow a percentage of themselves and actually give back to the earth and demand less. Just let that go, though. So, just to address a much easier question which is what this research is supposed to be pertaining to; mitigating the effects of "Industrial" Animal Waste into the water supply. I highlight the "Industrial" aspect of this first as it is actually the biggest problem. So a simple, rudimentary solution is – if you don't raise it yourself you don't get, or you get allotted(environmentally determined) amount, oooh but that's just mean though folks need that bacon(daily :().... So let's go the scientific (not mad science as suggested) route which is to set up efficient systems of processing this industrial waste into energy needed for the farms. Really think we can't do that, and that it would just be easier to redesign the pig? No! Learn to work with the earth. Who do we think we are?

    September 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  24. Emi

    This is ridiculous. xD

    September 26, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  25. Kenn

    One issue that I have not heard addressed yet is how will individuals, like myself, know if we are being feed the meat of a genetically altered pig? This is especially important to those of us on dialysis (ie., people with kidney failure) that need to severely limit our intake of phosphorous. If the pigs is ingesting the same amount of phosphorous form its feed and less is in its manure, then there must be extra phosphorous in the meat.

    In the case of the genetically altered salmon, the producers have argued against any labeling requirement. Above shows that there can be unintended harmful results unless the end consumer is given the information required to make an intelligent choice.

    September 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
    • Kyle

      I'm sorry that you are in renal failure. That being said, you missed an important part of the article – the meat from the Enviropig is indistinguishable from that of a non-Enviropig.

      September 26, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  26. Average Dude

    The eco-extremists cannot be ever satisfied. They are just as bad as the extreme-conservatives, with their fear of science and innovation. That's so sad.
    Can't you people see that scientists are actually trying to do a good thing here? I suggest you go do some research about all the serious environmental issues related to pig manure – and please stop preaching to us with that old rhetoric about becoming a vegeratian as the cure for all of society's evils.
    And by the way, I'll become a vegetarion the day science creates a genetically engineered plant that can grow bacon.
    In the mean time, if you excuse me, I have to go because I have some pork ribs waiting for me on the grill.

    September 26, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  27. chris

    Mixing genes of so different species, like pig, mouse and E.coli,and THEN TO EAT such an OUTCOME, is crazy, to me. Do people want to eat pork, or mouse with some taste of E.coli? The purpose of introducing an enzyme which produces even more phosphate, even faster, than the natural pigs non-modified body does, is highly questionable (except for those who are going to make money with that business), since deregulation of humans energy resource molecule ATP (especially sick people eating such a pork), plays very frequently a major role in all different types of cancers. Why nobody of you people read more about genetically modified plants, animals, fish and try to understand what is happening? Why we all do nothing, to protect these animals from the already very miserable life they have... Or is it all OK like that?

    September 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Kyle

      I would gladly volunteer to be the first person to eat meat from an Enviropig!

      I have an honest question, to those of you with safety concerns: in what way do you expect/predict that this meat will harm you?

      September 27, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  28. Aristocrat1

    Enviropigs...Nom nom nom.

    Bacon, sausage, ham...Rich dripping juicy MEAT. Mmmmm...

    September 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  29. Bryan

    This is in no way "green"...
    The pig's natural environment has developed mechanisms to deal with it's waste through microbes, bacteria, etc. And for those of you who are so "green" and mighty...phosphorous is a necessity for plants; ever think about maybe not chopping down all the forests that are such a vital part of processing all of our wastes instead of re-engineering life to produce different waste? We're not supposed to be breading so many pigs...and breading pigs because we figured out we shouldn't be breading so much cattle isn't an intelligent conclusion. The answer is NOT to genetically modify everything on the planet to function the way our selfish lifestyles require, the answer is to alter our lifestyles to be in better harmony with our environment. How are we planning to prepare our environment to deal with the way these new genetically engineered animals are going to interact with it; to be able to break down it's waste as part of the normal cycle.
    This is a terrible idea that stems primarily from big business trying to quiet down the green-idiots so they can return to business as usual. These are the same baby-boomer, granola, hippy-types that will show up and "share" all of your things until there's nothing left and then move on...that's far from "green", which has turned into more of a brand than a movement.
    The negative impact of farming any fish or animals has always been huge on the environment. Since we live in and rely on our environment to support our life and provide for us as part of it's cycle...maybe we should stop trying to fight against the system. Re-engineering the life on this planet because we've overpopulated it and refuse to act responsibly is pretty bad policy.

    September 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  30. Pamela

    Soo... rather than just feeding pigs something they can digest naturally, we blow $5 million + dollars genetically modifying pigs to consume corn crap with no real nutritional value and feed these CREATED beings to people... also, what happens if the genetically modified creatures, which grow and breed at an excelerated pace, such as salmon, enter the natural environment? Science: proving there is no God since the 15th century.

    September 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  31. Kyle JT

    Good! More transgenic food, please! We do it with our fruits and vegetables already. Faster growing animals, cleaner animals, less damage to the environment... YES Ma'am!

    September 26, 2010 at 1:10 am |
  32. Mike

    ...or, we could just stop eating filthy, unhealthy, environment destroying bodies of tortured and bruta

    September 25, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  33. Alen

    Organic = The Best

    September 25, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  34. ...---...

    STOP JUST STOP!!! YOU are NOT entitled to other people's bodies without their consent or against their will. Where did you learn this stuff? Entitled brats. GO AWAY!!!

    September 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  35. Rosemary

    "One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them."
    Martin Luther King, Jr

    September 25, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  36. Jessica

    Half of these comments makes me thank nature for creating all the bad things to keep our ego-centric species in check... Sorry but I have a hard time being compassionate for humanity as a whole, because you know what? Just like most humans don't care about animals being nothing more then "tasty tasty" meat, they shouldn't take it personally when nature takes them out. I mean it is what it is right? It's truly sad, that science has given us a sense of entitlement we simply don't deserve.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  37. Rosemary

    "Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is – whether its victim is human or animal – we cannot expect things to be much better in this world... We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity."
    Rachel Carson

    September 25, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  38. Amanda

    It is not the pigs creating the phosphorous run off it is the chemical fertilizers.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  39. ...---...

    Don't even think of trying to get us to pay for this adulteration to our food supply.

    September 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
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