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NEWS: Enviropig and supersized salmon may be first GM animals allowed into food system

In a largely pro-biotechnology lead article today, the Globe and Mail reports that, “Under development for more than a decade, the University of Guelph’s 20 Enviropigs are close behind a Canadian-made supersized salmon in a race to become the first genetically modified animals allowed into the food system.”

ENVIROPIG

“Scientists created the first Enviropig in 1999 by combining genetic material from E. coli bacteria and a snippet of mouse DNA. The gene alteration allows the pig to produce phytase, an enzyme regular pigs lack, which helps it digest naturally occurring plant phosphorous in its feed more efficiently. Pigs need phosphorous to grow. So as researchers see it, the benefits of Enviropig are twofold: Farmers would no longer need to supplement pigs’ diets with mineral phosphate or commercially produced phytase, thus reducing feed costs, and they would decrease the amount of the nutrient that winds up in pigs’ waste – making it less polluting.”

“The market may soon need Enviropig. To feed the projected world population of nine billion in 2050, food production will have to increase by 70 per cent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Genetically engineered organisms will have to be part of the equation, according to the globe-spanning community of experts concerned with meeting those looming targets.”

The Council of Canadians has commented on the Enviropig at ‘NEWS: GE pigs are not the answer to the phosphorous pollution of water’ at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3033.

GE SALMON

“The proverbial guinea pig to the Enviropig is the AquAdvantage salmon, owned by Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty and pioneered in Prince Edward Island. The genetically altered fish grows twice as fast as non-genetically modified salmon, and therefore requires fewer production inputs. “In September, the salmon was deemed safe to eat in a preliminary analysis conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration. A committee of the agency is still considering whether more research is needed before the salmon can enter the final steps to market.”

“So far, the salmon has shouldered the brunt of public concern and regulators’ scrutiny. AquaBounty’s application to have the fish approved for human consumption has hopped more regulatory hurdles than the corresponding Canadian application for Enviropig.”

Leo Broderick, vice-chair of the Council of Canadians, has been a vocal opponent on GE salmon. More on that at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=5426.

APPROVAL PROCESS

“Still, genetically altering animals for human consumption remains uncharted territory, and regulators in the United States and Canada are still grappling with how such food technology should be handled. U.S. regulators have decided to treat genetically modified animals as veterinary drugs; in Canada, at least three federal agencies are involved in the application process (no animal or fish has ever been approved for human consumption in either country). …Fewer government resources in Canada means the application for approval of Enviropig – which has cost more than $5-million to research – has been slow. The University of Guelph submitted applications to Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada last year, as well as to the FDA. Although Enviropig is about halfway through the FDA’s seven-step approval process, the university does not know where it stands with Health Canada and the CFIA.”

“(In February, Environment Canada approved Enviropig for commercial production because it was legally required to respond within 120 days. But without approval from the other agencies, any commercially bred Enviropigs at this point would merely be expensive pets.) Even if Enviropig got the go-ahead in Canada, it would still require U.S. approval before it was brought to market locally, said Cecil Forsberg, one of the creators of the Enviropig. Since the United States buys so much Canadian pork, the entire domestic industry would be undermined if Enviropig were to slip into that food system unapproved, he said.”

CRITICISMS

“Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, however, isn’t convinced the market wants or even needs DNA-altered animals. ‘Genetically engineered animals are so far from what consumers want, so far from the trend looking toward a sustainable local food system, it doesn’t make any sense that governments would waste taxpayers’ money assessing the safety,’ said Ms. Sharratt, whose Ottawa-based group promotes sustainable local agricultural production. She said dispersing hog production and reducing the size of farms – steps that would essentially reverse the trend of global food production – would ease the environmental burden of pig excrement without Enviropig.”

The full article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/global-food/canadas-transgenic-enviropig-is-stuck-in-a-genetic-modification-poke/article1812708/singlepage/#articlecontent.

To post your comment on this article on the Globe and Mail website, please go to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/global-food/canadas-transgenic-enviropig-is-stuck-in-a-genetic-modification-poke/article1812708/comments/.

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