Per the Daily Mail Online, Canadian geneticists have developed a genetically modified (GM) oinker, somewhat cynically dubbed Frankenswine, that doesn’t smell as much as its less evolved cousins because its excreta contain less phosphorus. The scientists, who prefer the kinder, gentler moniker Enviropig, extol the animal’s benefits, calling it “cheaper and greener.” In addition to smelling better, the Enviropig’s manure contains less phosphorus than normal slurry and poses less risk to rivers, streams and lakes.
The problem it that pigs need phosphorus to form strong bones, teeth and cell calls, but the cereals they are fed contain phosphorus compounds their digestive tracts cannot break down. To get around this problem, farmers feed the pigs the enzyme phytase to help with with phosphorus digestion. But this is not very efficient, and an excessive amounts of phosphorus still exit the animal and enter the ecosystem.
Enter the the Enviropig, a super-animal that can generate its own phytase. It reportedly looks, grows, breeds, behaves, and tastes like its more modest natural siblings, but it excretes less phosphorus.
The Enviroporker’s introduction into the food chain is still years away, but already it has enemies, including the environmental organization Friends of the Earth (FOE). Vicki Hird, of FOE, lays it on the line:
By the way, if you have concerns about GM foods….FOE warned last November that the Federal Drug and Food Administration is close to approving a GM salmon. Due to widespread protests over many unanswered scientific questions, the FDA was forced to extend the review process.
I’m normally not a friend of environmental activists, but this seems like a good idea. It’s tempting to rush into production foods that promise to feed more people more efficiently, but the genomes of even the most primitive organisms are darn complicated things, and “engineering” them to achieve a certain outcome can (and will) lead to all kinds of unforeseen consequences that might only become apparent years down the road.
I wish all the geneticists of the world all the best but, for all its worth, I bid them to be careful.