Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Little Piggy Said Squeak, Chitter, Squeak, Squeak All the Way Home

More catching up…

I've wanted to comment on this story for a while, but I kept pushing it aside as I dealt with other things. I think it's about time it was crossed from my list.

Scientists at the University of Guelph have created genetically engineered pigs. Mouse DNA was introduced into the pigs' chromosomes to create environmentally friendly animals. In fact, they are calling the resulting animals "Enviropigs".

The genetic changes allow the pigs to "produce manure that is 30 to 65 per cent lower in phosphorus than found in the manure of regular pigs -- blamed for polluting surface and groundwater when raised in intensive livestock operations."

The animals have been under development since 1999, but it wasn't until this year that Environment Canada determined that the pigs aren't harmful to the environment. This is one of the first steps toward getting the animals approved for human consumption.

I know it is incredibly naïve of me, but wouldn't a more appropriate solution to environmentally hazardous pig poop be to stop the intensive farming of pigs? Although I admire the incredible creativity and dedication of the scientists who created these animals, I don't feel that theirs is the right solution.

As it is, Environment Canada concluded that the pigs are environmentally safe only if they're kept in a contained environment away from other pigs. The twelve pigs currently residing at the University of Guelph are housed in a "high security, alarmed research building." I'm sure that's not just for the protection of the pigs.

Somehow, the idea that the Enviropigs must be kept separate from other pigs doesn't make me feel any safer. It's one thing to keep a dozen pigs confined in a research building. It's another thing altogether to ensure that the thousands of hogs found on the average factory farm are kept segregated from other animals. I envision things going seriously wrong in spite of safety measures and good intentions if Enviropigs are raised on such farms.

In another story on the same issue, I discovered that the university is "trying to find licensees, especially in China…the country with the greatest need for this technology." I found this detail to be less than comforting. Environment Canada would have no way of regulating how the pigs are contained in China. How long would it be before contaminated pork products were making their way back into North America? Recent news stories involving other dangerous made-in-China products seem to indicate that it wouldn't be long at all.

Now here's where I get really paranoid. We now have pigs that are genetically modified with mouse DNA. These modifications have changed the composition of the pigs' manure. Rodents, like mice, are the primary carriers of Hantavirus. Hantavirus is contracted by humans when they breathe in dust contaminated by infected rodent droppings. Scientists have created an animal with the DNA of a mouse that poops on the scale of a pig. I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.

Hubby thinks I'm being silly. I must say I agree with him. I am being silly, but I hope my silliness proves a point. I feel it's impossible to predict the kinds of complications that will arise when animals like these are taken out of the lab and released into the real world. I'm sure swine-Hantavirus won't be a result of this experiment, but I wonder if that's the sort of extreme outcome we'd need before we realize this isn't such a good idea. There's a small voice in my head that chides "maybe that would learn us", but I'm afraid it won't.

I'd like my bacon without so much rodent please.




  1. Wow. This story strikes me as ridiculous. It's like chopping off a limb and then putting a band-aid on it--the solution does not match the scale of the problem. Yikes.

  2. Rosiecat, I am relieved. I was worried that I'd offend your scientist-self with my uninformed opinions! Whew!


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