It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s… Enviropig?

April 6, 2010

Yesterday, we reported on the problem of ocean dead zones, areas of seafloor with far too little oxygen to sustain most marine life. In many cases, the root of the problem is the spread of nitrogen caused by runoff of fertilizers, sewage outflows, and nitrogen deposits from burning fossil fuels (The Globe and Mail).

It’s often said, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but that wisdom seems to have escaped a group of scientists suggesting that a genetically engineered pig, eerily dubbed “Enviropig,” might be the answer to the agricultural pollutants that are making large portions of the ocean uninhabitable for marine life.

(Warning: the following may be too troubling for some bacon lovers to read…)

The Enviropig™ is a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs with the capability of digesting plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs. These pigs produce the enzyme phytase in the salivary glands that is secreted in the saliva. When cereal grains are consumed, the phytase mixes with the feed as the pig chews. Once the food is swallowed, the phytase enzyme is active in the acidic environment of the stomach, degrading indigestible phytate in the feed that accounts for 50 to 75% of the grain phosphorus.

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In layman’s terms, this basically means that the mass-produced swine are genetically modified so that they can digest the grain feed (which they wouldn’t be eating in natural environment) and commercial farmers won’t have to worry about large amounts urine and feces mixing with the local water supply (which wouldn’t be a concern if the farms were farm-sized instead of factory sized), where they contribute to ocean dead zones.

And if that weren’t troubling enough, National Geographic reports:

To make sure the modification would work in mammals, the team paired the E. coli genes with a mouse DNA promoter, a section of DNA that encourages replication of a specific segment—in this case the bacterial genes. Researchers then injected microscopic fertilized pig embryos with the mixture.

Mmmmm… E. coli. Just what your bacon was missing.

Although it would be nice to believe that these modifications would produce a pig that would taste great AND produce less phosphorous-heavy poop, the reality is that Big Agriculture stands to benefits from Enviropig in a big way.

Generation Green reports:

…Even the pig’s creators admit that their project was intended from the start to help mega farms evade the burden of regulations and cram even more pigs into their already overcrowded operations. When the very first Enviropigs were created in 1999, project leader John Phillips told Reuters that with their reduced phosphorous sh*t, hog farms could raise 50% more animals and still meet environmental rules: “Pork producers live under very stringent environmental regulations and can only raise so many hogs per hectare,” he explained.High phosphorous levels are a problem created by the high phosphorous grain used in confined factory hog farms. Sustainable, pasture-raised hogs primarily eat grasses, so small family hog farmers avoid the problem naturally.

So far, no transgenic animal has been approved for consumption in the United States. But in 2008 the FDA announced approval of the first human health product made from a genetically engineered animal…so it’s probably only a matter of time.

Click here to learn more about the GMO takeover of America’s food supply, and what you can do to banish frankenfoods like Enviropig forever.

Image Credit: National Geographic – Photograph by Cecil W. Forsberg

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