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End of 'Enviropig' project proves little interest in GM meat

A herd of genetically-modified pigs in Ontario will likely be euthanized because the research program that created them can't find any interested buyers.

The first generation of so-called Enviropigs were bred in 1999 at the University of Guelph. The animals digest feed more efficiently, resulting in manure that could cause less environmental damage. Since then there have been eight generations of Enviropigs, including the current herd of 16 animals.

Ontario Pork announced last month it would no longer fund the project. The organization was the main backer, contributing more than $1 million to Enviropig research over the past decade, but the project also received money from government agencies like NSERC, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.

Enviropig has failed to attract interest from a company that would seek to commercialize the pigs. Lori Bona Hunt, a spokesperson for the university, said that unless the project finds another source of funding it will euthanize the animals and save their genetic material -- semen and tissue samples -- in long-term storage.

That seems unlikely, given that neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor Health Canada have approved the animals for human consumption. That's good news, as far as some environmentalist groups and the National Farmers' Union are concerned.

"There's no demand or need for genetically modifying food animals," stated Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network in a press release. "The federal government should stop accepting requests to approve GM food animals."

Even the Enviropig co-inventor, emeritus professor Cecil Forsberg, told the New York Times that he agreed with Ontario Pork's decision. When the pig was created in 1999, "I had the feeling in seven or eight or nine years that transgenic animals probably would be acceptable," Forsberg told the Times. "But I was wrong."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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