EnviroPig, a kind of Yorkshire pig, is a genetically engineered "frankenswine" that has been created to be greener than your average piggy and his poop.
Since feedlot pigs have issues digesting the phosphorus they get from their feed, they end up excreting it in their poop and urine, resulting in that factory pig farm stench. This strange brew manure is then used as a fertilizer on the farms. Which means that, when it rains, all this phosphorus runs off into waterways and, in the case, of the Mississippi, out into the Gulf, creating a giant dead zone from the resulting algal blooms. This is an enormous problem for streams, rivers and lakes downstream from factory pig farms. In some cases, it's an environmental catastrophe.
Enter genetic engineering. Scientists have replaced one gene to help the pig break down the phosphorus. Creators of the EnviroPig achieved this by splicing a gene from the E. coli bacteria and a bit of mouse DNA into a normal pig embryo. This new and improved pig's poop contains 30 - 60% less phosphorous.
An environmental blessing? Well, this transgenic pig isn't quite ready to enter the food chain and end up on your plate just yet, but it could be soon enough. It is supposed to taste the same as a regular Yorkshire pig, even with its minor modifications. I'm not sure exactly how they're testing its safety for human consumption, but I can't say I'll be lining up to try it. Although with the lack of GMO labeling in this country, thousands of people could end up eating it without their knowledge.
While Canada has approved limited production of the EnviroPig, you won't be seeing it in the U.S. anytime soon. However, the FDA is being pretty coy about applications of the pigs being made, so I wouldn't be
surprised if that changed. Testing so far claims that it's equivalent in nutritional value (fats, proteins and the like) to unmodified pigs. But, is that testing enough?
We've seen similar modifications turn out badly, namely with allergic reactions to GMO corn. Indications from other GMO products point to previously unknown health impacts, particularly in feedlot animals. Like sterility and organ failure.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind genetic selection to produce improved kinds of animals, vegetables and minerals, but when you start mixing and matching bacteria and multiple mammal DNA well, I get a little nervous about the outcome. But, mostly, I think we are just approaching the problem from the wrong direction.
Rather than modify the pig, why don't we modify the management of pig poop? And, while we are at it, maybe monitor factory pig farming a little bit better? And finally, there's the obvious aspect of maybe eating less meat altogether so we'd have less pig poop to dispose of.
Would you willingly eat an EnviroPig? More importantly, what do you feel about GMO labelling?