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“Enviropig” or FrankenSwine? Why Genetically Modifying Pigs Could Cause a Load of Manure

“Enviropig” or FrankenSwine? Why Genetically Modifying Pigs Could Cause a Load of Manure

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Enviropig is the trade name for a genetically engineered hog currently being developed at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Enviropig is being marketed as an improvement in swine physiology that will lead to less water pollution. So what makes this designer pig so environmentally friendly? As it turns out, not much at all.
Enviropig is the trade name for a genetically engineered hog currently being developed at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Enviropig is being marketed as an improvement in swine physiology that will lead to less water pollution. So what makes this designer pig so environmentally friendly? As it turns out, not much at all.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Food and Water Watch on Jun 30, 2010
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 “Enviropig” or FrankenSwine?
Why Genetically Modifying Pigs Could Cause a Load of Manure
Behind the Technology 
For proper nutrition, pigs require a certain amount of phosphorus in their diets.
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However, the phosphorus instandard feed grains is difcult for pigs to digest,
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and thephosphorus that doesn’t get absorbed ends up in manure.
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 When hogs are raised on enough land to spread theirwaste, there is no need for concern. In fact, phosphorusis actually a very valuable fertilizer for crops when used inappropriate amounts.
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 “Appropriate,” however, is not the right term when talkingabout concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs,which are often described as factory farms. In factoryfarms, thousands of animals are conned in a single facil-ity and they collectively produce a tremendous amount of waste that needs to be dealt with.
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The pressure to disposeof this incredible amount of waste can lead to overappli-cation of manure on land and accidental discharges fromstorage pits.
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When the waste ends up running off into sur-face water or seeping into groundwater, excess phosphoruscan cause algae blooms, sh kills and other environmentaldamage.
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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA), only 20 to 50 percent of all large hog farms haveenough land on which to spread all their manure withoutexceeding limits on phosphorus or nitrogen application.
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 Because of its danger to humans and the environment,phosphorous is one of the major nutrients monitored inU.S. Environmental Protection Agency CAFO regulations.
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 So where does Enviropig t into all of this? The geneticallymodied hogs produce an enzyme known as “phytase”that allows them to absorb the phosphorus from feed moreefciently, resulting in less phosphorous in the manure.Phytase was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin-istration (FDA) in 1995 and was rst available to producersin 1997.
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But with Enviropig, researchers have genetically
E
nviropig™ is the trade name for a genetically engineered hog currently beingdeveloped at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Enviropig is beingmarketed as an improvement in swine physiology that will lead to less waterpollution.
1
So what makes this designer pig so environmentally friendly? As it turnsout, not much at all.
FOOD
 
engineered an animal that can secrete the phytase enzymein its own mouth, which reduces the need for phytase to beprovided as a feed supplement.
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 So isn’t Enviropig an improvement? Not really. The onlysetting in which Enviropig’s unique new trait offers any util-ity is on a factory farm. The factory farm model of raisingpigs is so detrimental to the environment — not to mentionthe health of the animals and the people who eat them— that generating slightly less phosphorous in the hugeamounts of waste produced will not come close to xingthe problem.
Enviropig Is Not Environmentally Friendly 
The fact that Enviropig can reduce the level of phosphoruspresent in manure does not necessarily translate into a pos-itive impact on the environment. First, the actual amountof waste that the Enviropig produces is not reduced in anymeaningful way; the chemical makeup of the waste is justmodied. Second, the actual amount of phosphorus thatends up in the land around the CAFO will most likely staythe same. Why? As the scientists working on Enviropighave implied, use of these modied animals simply allowsCAFO facilities to apply more manure to their land beforethey exceed regulated limits on phosphorus. Accordingto researchers at the University of Guelph, “the land arearequired for spreading [the same amount of manure] couldbe reduced by 33%.”
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This means that more manure canbe applied before reaching regulatory limits on other nutri-ents, and therefore the concentration of potentially damag-ing chemicals and nutrients applied to the land besidesphosphorus, like excess nitrogen, could actually increase,not decrease.
Phosphorus Is Not the Only Problemwith Pig Excrement
There are many serious concerns with manure besides just phosphorus. There are issues with misapplicationand overapplication of manure on land.
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The amount of manure produced in a large hog CAFO is actually so greatthat some facilities have turned to shipping out manure toother areas, which can be quite expensive.
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 There are other harmful and dangerous products in hogmanure, including nitrogen, ammonia, and hydrogensulde.
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Nitrogen, which hogs excrete in greater quanti-ties than phosphorus,
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has similar negative effects onwaterways including sh kills and algae blooms, and cancause health problems in humans, including “blue-babysyndrome” in infants.
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Nitrogen pollution is also thoughtto be largely responsible for the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
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Ammonia is toxic to aquatic life and reducesthe amount of oxygen in water bodies, therefore reducingthe ability of the water to support an ecosystem.
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Bothammonia and hydrogen sulde can lead to respiratoryailments, and hydrogen sulde can cause central nervoussystem effects.
21
With the potential for Enviropig to con-centrate more manure in one place, the likelihood for all of these other negative impacts increases.
Phytase Is Already Available as anInexpensive Feed Supplement
Phytase, the enzyme that Enviropig has been geneticallymodied to produce in its mouth, is already available as afeed supplement.
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Because of their inability to digest thephosphorus in feed grains, pigs typically need to ingest ad-
Two visitors at a manure lagoon on a factory hog farm in Iowa. Photo by Food & Water Watch.
 
ditional phosphorus in order to meet their dietary needs.
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 So while a phytase supplement may be an added cost, pro-ducers using it don’t have to pay for additional phosphorusto meet the hogs’ nutritional needs, and in some cases thismay make them more protable.
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Furthermore, there maybe a signicant cost difference between regular pigs andthe Enviropig. While the researchers behind Enviropigcontend that it may be more efcient than the phytasesupplement, even they acknowledge that any potentiallyincreased performance of Enviropig’s genes over a supple-ment must be considered within the context of the majorcost of developing a genetically engineered animal.
25
 
When Is Enviropig Coming?
Research on genetically engineering a pig that can producephytase began over 10 years ago.
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Scientists rst geneti-cally engineered mice to secrete phytase in their saliva,and then used that gene to engineer pigs to do the same.
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 In February 2010, the University of Guelph cleared therst regulatory hurdle when it received approval from theCanadian Environmental Protection Agency to reproducethe animal in conned conditions.
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The evaluation onlyconsidered whether the pig was actually toxic to the envi-ronment.
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The university has identied both the UnitedStates and China as lucrative markets for Enviropig, and theresearchers have already submitted materials to the U.S.FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for ap-proval to market the pig.
30
 
Problems with FDA’s ApprovalProcess
In order for Enviropig to be sold for food in the UnitedStates, it must rst be approved by the FDA. The FDA doesnot have regulations in place on how to approve geneti-cally engineered animals, but in 2009, the FDA issuedvoluntary, non-binding guidance for the industry.
31
Inthe guidance, the FDA stated that it is currently using theanimal drug approval process for approving genetically en-gineered animals.
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This is awed for a number of reasons.The animal drug approval process is not transparent. De-spite the fact that the agency plans to hold public advisorycommittee meetings prior to approval,
33
there is still mini-mal room for public participation before the agency makesa decision on a proposal. More concerning is that the FDAwill be basing its conclusions on materials provided by theresearchers themselves.
34
In addition, FDA will not evalu-ate the claimed positive environmental impact of Enviropigor whether the genetic engineering simply duplicates afunction already available in a cheap feed supplement.FDA’s analysis of the animal’s “effectiveness” only consistsof determining whether the genetic modication is ex-pressed in the animal.
35
 Consumers are increasingly aware of genetic manipulationin food animals and they don’t like what they see. A PewInitiative poll in 2006 found that 64 percent of adults are“uncomfortable” or “strongly uncomfortable” with animalcloning, and a 2005 poll found that only 27 percent of people surveyed supported the genetic modication of animals.
36
The sentiment was so strong that in 2008 theUSDA asked producers to voluntarily keep cloned animalsoff the market because of consumer concerns.
37
Evenif these products do come to market, consumers shouldhave the opportunity to make informed choices abouttheir food. A recent Consumers Union poll found that 95percent of consumers favor labeling meat and milk thatcomes from genetically engineered animals.
38
Yet despitethis overwhelming support, the FDA will not require label-ing food that comes from genetically modied animalslike Enviropig.
39
 
Conclusion
The problem with excess phosphorus in hog waste is theresult of too many animals being concentrated in too littlespace, not a problem of genetics. The approval of Envi-ropig will lead to more intense applications of manurethat can lead to harmful environmental effects. Instead of addressing actual environmental harms that CAFOs pose,scientists are spending years working on a genetic modi-cation to engineer a solution to a problem that simplywould not occur if hogs were not conned with too manyanimals and too little land.
What You Can Do
Tell FDA not to approve the Enviropig for use in the UnitedStates. Go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org to take actionor contact FDA directly at 1-888-463-6332

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