Why the Enviropig is Full of Shit

The best friend a polluting factory hog farm ever knew is back in the news. The so-called “Enviropig” is a genetically manipulated (GMO) hog that a Canadian team has been trying to develop for more than a decade, in response to the pork industry’s need to evade environmental regulations.

Pigs crammed onto factory farms produce massive amounts of pig shit, which contains high levels of phosphorous. Since they cannot contain the shit, the phosphorous-heavy poop inevitably contaminates water supplies in communities around the farms. So regulators limit hog farms’ capacity by limiting the amount of phosphorous pollution they are permitted to release.

The Enviropig project has been widely touted for its environmental benefits: recent news articles called the GMO pig “the first transgenic animal created to solve an environmental problem.”

But in fact, 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 shit, 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.

The Enviropig is in the news again because the Canadians have recently requested human food approval of their GMO animals to the US FDA and Canadian regulators. Last month, Canada approved the GMO pig for breeding and further study, but breeding more animals means disposal becomes an issue, so the Enviropig developers want permission to dispose of their science experiments on our dinner plates.

Alarmingly, the Enviropig research team has already proven incapable of properly disposing of its experimental errors. As the Toronto Globe and Mail reported in 2002, when eleven Enviropigs were born dead or sickly enough to require euthanasia (a common result of GMO reproduction), regulations required that the animals be destroyed by incineration. But compounding their error, the researchers instead sent the mutant GMO pigs to a rendering plant, where the untested GMO animals were illegally made into poultry feed. Confronted with the breach, the University overseer of the Canadian research team offered the scientists’ best defense: “Things you don’t expect to happen can happen.”

Apparently a lot of what scientists don’t expect about GMO foods seems to happen. For example, scientists didn’t expect their GMO soybean to cause allergies, or their GMO pea to cause an allergy-like immune-response. But in both cases, that’s what happened. As anyone with a child in daycare knows, food allergies can be severe, difficult to avoid, and potentially fatal. In 2001, Enviropig scientist Cecil Forsberg admitted that Enviropigs could turn out to be “unsuitable for human consumption because it could cause allergies,” but his colleague promised that pigs would be thoroughly tested before they would seek approval for food.

Now that they’re seeking approval for our food supply, you might expect that they’ve tested hundreds of Enviropigs and found them to be safe. But you’d be wrong. According to a recent report, only about 30 Enviropigs have been bred since the first in 1999, and no food safety studies have been released. Enviropig developers have acknowledged that they don’t even know how to test for allergies on a substance that has never before been part of the diet.

Despite the widespread scientific, food safety, environmental and ethical concerns, the Enviropig is just one of many GMO and cloned animals the biotechnology industry wants to dump on our dinner plates. While industry has failed to provide any legitimate assessment of the need for these Frankenfoods, the FDA seems poised to give in to their mad-pig plan. In 2007, the agency announced it would permit marketing of food from cloned animals, even though there are virtually no safety studies on food from animal clones.