The future of the University of Guelph’s Enviropig project, touted by supporters as having a good shot of becoming the first genetically-engineered animal approved for human consumption, is now in limbo after the industry group Ontario Pork decided to pull its research support.
The Ontario university, which holds the patent for the GE pig, says the plan — pending any last-minute corporate support secured by June — “would be depopulating the herd” and “putting the genetics in long-term storage,” spokeswoman Lori Bona Hunt said Monday.
There are currently 16 animals in the herd, part of the eighth generation of the Enviropig. Created in 1999 with a snippet of mouse DNA introduced into their chromosomes, the Yorkshire pigs were engineered to produce low-phosphorus feces as a way to reduce polluting phosphorus from large factory farms.
Critics of the Enviropig pounced on Ontario Pork’s decision to end its financial support of the project, saying Health Canada should now refuse to consider the university’s application to bring the pig to market now that active research is effectively finished.
“Health Canada has already wasted precious public funds reviewing a GE pig that consumers and farmers do not want,” Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, told reporters on Parliament Hill Monday.
Sharratt was accompanied by Paul Slomp, youth vice-president of the National Farmers Union. Les Gills, a hog farmer from Eastern Ontario, also participated via teleconference, saying he was “relieved” by the funding withdrawal.
“Our government should reserve the talents of our scientific evaluators for useful and socially-desirable technologies,” said Sharratt, pointing out there’s a cost-effective hog feed supplement that achieves the same cut in phosphorous promised by the Enviropig.
The University of Guelph previously filed applications with Environment Canada and Health Canada to commercialize the GE pig. A similar application was filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The university cleared an important hurdle in Canada in February 2010, when Environment Canada determined the GE pig does not harm the environment under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and accepted the University of Guelph’s notice of significant new activity — meaning the GE pig could be farmed commercially.
Health Canada has yet to make any pronouncement on the university’s application for the Enviropig to become meat on Canadian kitchen tables. The department does not comment on the status of any application.