06 Jan 11 GM pigs: Green ham with your eggs?
In a small complex of nondescript barns set in the flat, snow-covered fields of Ontario is a scientific project, called Enviropig, which, some argue, represents the new frontier of a technology that could benefit millions of people around the world. For others what is happening here is weird, dangerous science.
The pigs they are breeding could be among the first genetically modified farm animal to be approved for human consumption.
The huge controversy over the introduction of genetically modified crops is well documented, but this seems to take that debate a step further, and into even more troubled waters.
The project here is called Enviropig. The animals inside the clean, warm barns look like normal pigs and behave like normal pigs, but they are living, breathing wonders of modern science.
Each one contains genes from mice and E.coli bacteria, which have been inserted into their DNA with absolute precision.
Those genes make a small but important difference to the way these pigs process their food.
Ordinarily, pigs cannot easily digest chemicals called phosphates. That means that the stuff that comes out of the back end can be toxic and damaging to the environment. The phosphates are easily washed into waterways, where they can produce a hugely fertile environment for plants. But the plants grow so rapidly that they choke the stream or river and cause huge damage to the ecosystem.