A U.S. animal rights group hopes to save a herd of genetically modified pigs from early deaths after funding dried up for a Canadian research project that has stoked controversy about altering animal genes to produce food.
Possible euthanization of the nine so-called Enviropigs, descendants of swine first bred 13 years ago by the University of Guelph in Ontario to lessen the environmental impact of pig waste, has drawn opposition from Farm Sanctuary, a New York state-based group that places abused animals in new homes.
“For the same reason, the university wouldn’t be euthanizing healthy puppies or kittens, they shouldn’t be killing these pigs,” said Bruce Friedrich, a senior official with Farm Sanctuary. “They have a moral responsibility to see that these animals lead out their lives being pigs.”
The Enviropig is one of a handful of research projects around the world that could engineer the first genetically modified animal for human consumption. But GMO plants and animals face tough scrutiny from regulators, with some consumers leery about unproven long-term health effects.
Trade repercussions could be considerable if genetically modified meat entered the food supply chain without government approval. Canada is the world’s third largest pork exporter.
“It would represent an unacceptable and irresponsible risk for the university to allow these transgenic animals to be under anyone else’s control … with the possibility that they could intermix with either feral or domesticated pigs, or even end up in the human food chain by accident,” wrote University of Guelph spokeswoman Lori Bona Hunt in a statement to Reuters. The university is located 90 km west (56 miles) of Toronto.
The university may not euthanize the pigs if it can find a new partner in the Enviropig project, Bona Hunt said, after an Ontario hog farmer group pulled its funding in March.