The end of the enviropig

by | Apr 2012

The enviropig was supposed to be a shinning beacon of genetic engineering - appropriate for agriculture, as well as human consumption - in addition to being a Canadian innovation. However, with a recent decision by Ontario Pork, the enciropig has no legs to stand on.

The University of Guelph has been working on creating the enviropig, a transgenic animal comprised of some genes from E. coli and a mouse, since the late 1990s. The goal was to create an animal that is capable of digesting phosphorus in much less quality foodstuffs and prevent dangerous phosphorus runoff from leaking into the soil or contaminating the watershed.

According to Mary Jane Quinn, the senior marketing communications leader for Ontario Pork, the phytate phosphorus found in cereal grains and animal feed is normally not digestible by monogastrics such as pigs and is excreted in their manure. While a beneficial nutrient for plant and animal growth, phosphorus can be a pollutant in the soil or water.

"It was anticipated that the meat from the pigs could be a valuable source of protein for humans in countries that are overpopulated, which have little to no land available for farming or had waste issues to address," she said. "Having a pig that produces manure with lower phosphorus content and increased nutrient value is beneficial for the environment especially in more densely populated countries with less available land for livestock and for spreading manure."

But, as potentially beneficial as the program seemed, Ontario Pork re-evalutated the potential short and long-term investment, as well as the state of the research.

"Research on the Enviropig has been completed to a point where the genetics has been proven, and the primary researcher has decided that the project is at a point where it is best for industry or a receptor to take it over.  For this reason, the organization is redirecting its research dollars to investigate other projects and facilities," said Quinn.

The University of Guelph is not without options, she added, but with a more cost-effective focus that does not require continual breeding and generation of live animals.

"Sufficient research has been completed to document the value of the Enviropig genetics and that research will still be available."

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