Enviropig: A Genetically Engineered Pig

By: Mona Manglona
By: Mona Manglona

Nutrient pollution is a widespread environmental issue in America. Phosphorus is a natural element in aquatic ecosystems that can be harmful to the environment when too much of it enters the air and water. Excess amounts of phosphorus in aquatic environments result in an increase amount of algae growth – more than what the environment can handle. Significant increases in algae can affect the water quality, food derived from that body of water, and the oxygen levels that organisms in that environment need to survive[1]. Pigs, like many other animals, need phosphorus which is a vital nutrient in making DNA and the cell process. Pigs, however, are unable to digest phytate – the main storage form of phosphorus in grains and oil seeds[2] – which is found in the feed that farmers give them. The inability for pigs to breakdown phytate causes them to excrete almost all the phosphorus they consume. The mass amounts of phosphorus being released into the environment by large swine farms is detrimental to neighboring aquatic systems.
In an article published by the National Geographic, a gene-altered pig was introduced as a solution to clearing out these “dead-zones” (phosphorus-prone areas such as farms and factories)[3]. In 1995, Enviropig was developed by researchers at the University of Guelph located in Ontario, Canada. Enviropig is the trademark name for a genetically modified line of Yorkshire pigs. The main purpose of Enviropig was to create genetically engineered pigs that could break down the phytase on its own which would mean 40-65% less phosphorus being excreted[4]. Enviropig was an attempt at decreasing the amount of phosphorus released into the environment by pigs, if commercialized Enviropig would cut the cost of pig feed and reduce phosphorus pollution.
The way Enviropig works involves a transgene construct containing two vital elements: murine parotid secretory protein promoter gene sequence (mouse) and the Escherichia coli phytase gene which is injected into the pig chromosome[5]. The injection acts as a promoter that directs the continuous production of the active phytase enzyme in the salivary glands. The phytase is secreted in the saliva which then is mixed with the feed being consumed. The phytase begins to really work in the stomach where it is supported through the acidic environment of the stomach. There the enzyme digests the phosphorus-rich phytate molecules.
Enviropig, like all genetically modified/engineered organisms, serve a bigger purpose that is either accepted or opposed by society. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are living organisms whose genetic sequencing has been manipulated with through genetic engineering[6]. Generally, GMO’s are designed to withstand negative impacts, however there is evidence that connects GMO’s with various health problems and environmental issues. GMO’s are banned in many countries, in the U.S. GMO’s are approved and many often used kitchen products contain some form of GMO’s such as canola oil, sugar, soy, dairy, and the list goes on[7].
Anything that is genetically modified goes against the natural cycle in which that organism once lived. Enviropig, although may come across as a viable solution, carries with it many controversial issues. Those who opposed Enviropig mainly argued that Enviropig is not necessary to resolve the issue of mass phosphorus production. Concerns revolve around the commercialization of Enviropig and whether or not it will be safe for humans to consume. Cathy Holtslander, community organizer with Beyond Factory Farming, says the possible risks that come with commercializing Enviropig are not worth it and that a safer way to address the problem of phosphorus pollution would be to reduce the concentration of hog-confinement facilities and the numbers of animals in them[8].
On February 10, 2010 the Department of the Environment of the Canadian Government determined that Enviropig was in compliance with their environmental requirements. Enviropig ultimately gained government backing however human consumption of Enviropig was still under review. Enviropig was met with more criticism as people began to question the ethical and moral issues behind genetically engineering animals that are not at fault for a problem they did not cause. Pigs will excrete phosphorus nonetheless, the issue lies in how pig operations are handled and how the industry needs to assess their mass hog populations to resolve nutrient pollution.
In April 2012, Enviropig lost all funding. Ontario Pork and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada were the main financial supporters of the University of Guelph’s Enviropig project. Both companies took into consideration the increase of public sensitivity to the use of GE animals and did not see a rise in benefits they originally thought Enviropig would bring in[9]. As the project came to an end, there were 10 remaining pigs from the 10th generation of pigs that participated from this decade long project. On May 24, 2012 the pigs were euthanized. The termination of the 10 enviropigs was found necessary by Enviropig because of the unknown effects that could occur having them live their unnatural lives and the effects they might have on the environment they are put into.
Genetically modified organisms exist mostly to resolve issues that involve human activity. Holtslander stated that pigs are not the problem, large industries that imprison vast quantities of pigs in one area is the problem. GMO’s seem to exist to resolve issues that do not have to be issues in the first place. Many supporters of GMO’s, especially in foods for human consumption, argue that we need to genetically engineer these food products in order to meet the demand of human use. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report stating that 133 billion pounds of the 430 billion pounds of available food in America were wasted in 2010[10]. We do not need to genetically modify plants and animals to support our irresponsible and wasteful actions.
[1] Environmental Protection Agency. Nutrient Pollution. N.D.
[2] Jacela JY, DeRouchey JM, Tokach MD. Feed additives for swine. Swine Health. 2010.
[3] Anne Minard. Gene-Altered “Enviropig” to Reduce Dead-zones? National Geographic. March 30, 2010.
[4] Bjorn Carey. Enviropig. Popular Science. September 29, 2010.
[5] University of Guelph. Enviropig: Technology. N.D.
[6] Non-GMO Project. GMO Facts. N.D.
[7] Elizabeth Renter. Top 10 Worst GMO Foods for your GMO Food List. Natural Society. July 28, 2012.
[8] Joan Delaney. Will This Little Piggy go to the Market? Epoch Times. February 24, 2010.
[9] Robert Streiffer, Sara Ortiz. Ethical Issues Arising from Enviropigs. University of Wisconsin. November 19-20, 2012.
[10] Jean Buzby, Hodan Wells, Jeffrey Hyman. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

1 thought on “Enviropig: A Genetically Engineered Pig”

  1. Sounds like a Dr. Frankenstein novel of weird and ridiculous science, I think this because no one can play God with out repercussions the creator of the monster Frankenstein was killed by his own creation, who’s to say these biogenetic entities wouldn’t try to kill the people who would be raising them for consumption, the has already proven that can and will kill people if they let them turn wild and the rat carries many diseases in their genes not to mention the bacteria that was added is dangerous which could make a human deathly ill and in some cases , people died from these bacterias science has proven to a life saving products being developed almost daily and a proven killer of developing inventions that kill 10’s of thousand people at one time, such as war weapons of all kinds (which unfortunately is needed to keep the peace) Pharmaceuticals that has no purpose of helping but harm you more than they help, they are a major mistake and causes addictions, no way these man made products should ever be giving to the general population of any country. This is my opinion on any biogenetic entities

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