After GMO Salmon, Are Genetically Modified Pigs Next?

Bringing Home the (Genetically Modified) Bacon: After GMO Salmon, Is GMO Pork Next?

GMO salmon may just be the beginning when it comes to genetically modified meat; genetically modified pigs are already in development and may be the next one to land on your dinner plate.

After the FDA’s historic approval of GMO salmon for human consumption last month, making it the first genetically modified animal to be given this approval, other biotech scientists are aiming for validation as well, particularly those working with pigs. FOXBusiness.com reports that Professor Bruce Whitelaw, head of development biology at the University of Edinburgh, believes that genetically modified pigs will be available for consumption within 5 or 10 years.

Whitelaw is one scientist who has developed genetically modified pigs, in this case, a breed resistant to untreatable African swine flu. He developed these pigs through gene editing, flipping their genetic code to be more similar to that of a warthog. “It’s a swap of sequence,” he told FOXBusiness.com. “It’s a 00000001 percent change, which is a tiny portion.”

A second type of genetically modified pig is the Enviropig, which was engineered by scientists at the University of Guelph in Canada by splicing DNA from mice and E. coli bacteria into the genome. This pig was created in order to solve the problem of a natural lack of the digestive enzyme phytase, which, when given as a supplement, makes it easier for pigs to digest grains. The digestion of the phytase supplement results in phosphorous being excreted in the pigs’ feces, which, when it runs off into waterways, promotes oxygen-eating algae, throwing off the balance of local ecosystems. Enviropig was approved by Environment Canada but subsequently lost its funding in 2012. The genetic material from the project was given to the Canadian Agricultural Genetics Repository Program.

A “double muscle” pig is currently in development by Jinsu Kim at Seoul National University. These hogs would produce twice as much muscle as a regular pig, which would translate to higher protein, lower fat meat. This is done by producing a mutation in the genome similar to one produced by the Belgian blue cow, which has a higher muscle content than other cows. These pigs are currently being aimed at a Chinese market.

Unlike the GM salmon released by AquaBounty, which were created by gene splicing with other salmon breeds and even other fish, neither type of genetically modified pig currently in development is transgenic. The benefit of this choice is that new allergens are not a concern, as they may be with transgenic GM foods, Greg Jaffe, director of the project on biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Canadian radio program, The Current.

“I’m not saying that’s a completely safe application,” he said. “But they will have different safety concerns.”

While pigs may be the next GM meat slated for approval, beef might not be far behind. New Zealand researchers have already genetically engineered a cow that produces B-lactoglobulin-free milk. B-lactocglobulins are often linked to allergies and digestive reactions in infants.

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Two pigs image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.