Images of hogs that appear to be genetically engineered to have hulking, enlarged muscles have surfaced from a farm in Cambodia. These “double-muscle” pigs also seem to have difficulty walking normally.
Animal rights group PETA has claimed that these pigs are somewhat obviously genetically engineered, but several news sources, including Newsweek, claim that it is more likely that the hogs were naturally bred to be more muscular.
“We can see from the pictures on the farm’s Facebook page that there is a spectrum of beefiness among them,” reports Newsweek. “That lack of uniformity means genetic alteration is not at play.”
In 2015, scientists at Seoul National University in Korea were able to genetically modify pigs’ myostatin gene, which typically regulates the production of muscle tissue, thus allowing pigs to build nearly boundless muscle mass. Researchers hoped these hogs, whose genetic modifications were relatively minor, would be approved for sale. It is possible, Newsweek reports, that these pigs were produced using the same lineage or technique, though these genetically engineered hogs were never approved for sale as food.
PETA compared the Cambodian pigs to a different South Korean pig, the fictional “Okja” from the recent Netflix film, which the New York Times described as “a genetically enhanced ‘Charlotte’s Web.’”
“Okja” focuses on a girl and the “super-pig” created by shady agrochemical company Mirando that she endeavors to save from slaughter. The Times also calls it “a deeply strange and semisatirical jab at corporate greed and omnivorous gluttony.”
Other genetically engineered pigs in existence include pigs that are resistant to untreatable African swine flu, developed by Professor Bruce Whitelaw, head of development biology at the University of Edinburgh, through gene editing techniques, and the Enviropig developed by scientists at the University of Guelph to reduce the amount of environmentally hazardous phosphorous in hog feces.
Neither of these species has been approved for human consumption. To date, the only genetically modified animal that has been approved is AquAdvantage salmon, produced by AquaBounty to grow faster than traditional salmon varieties.