Canadian Transgenic Pigs
End Up As Chicken Feed

By Kanina Holmes

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - As three Canadian federal agencies investigate how genetically modified piglets ended up in poultry feed, experts stressed on Tuesday that consumers should not be concerned.
"There's no food recall because there's just not any reason," Louise Laferriere, a biologist in the biotechnology office the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, told Reuters in a telephone interview from CFIA headquarters in Ottawa.
"There's not a consumer protection issue. But it's still a very important regulatory issue," said Laferriere, adding that the agency was still trying to determine where exactly the livestock feed was distributed.
On Feb. 12, the CFIA said that researchers at the University of Guelph in southern Ontario, who have bred transgenic pigs designed to excrete more environmentally friendly manure, reported 11 piglets, most of whom were stillborn, were missing from a freezer.
A subsequent investigation found the research animals, which were awaiting incineration, had been mistakenly picked up and sent to a rendering plant in late January, ending up in the poultry feed.
"It was a very inadvertent mistake," said Alan Wildeman, vice-president of research at the university.
"It's not the kind of thing that we like to see happen, but having said that, in a complex research enterprise, sometimes things do happen," Wildeman said on Tuesday, adding that the university has already implemented a tighter storage protocol.
The animals, dubbed enviropigs, have a gene made from the E. Coli bacterium along with mouse DNA. The extra gene helps the pigs produce an enzyme in their saliva that sharply reduces environmentally harmful phosphorous in their manure.
The Canadian researchers believe these are the first transgenic farm animals designed to reduce pollution. They hope to begin marketing the pigs in three to five years.
The CFIA has so far determined that the 675-tonbatch of feed was sold to at least 30 premises and fed mostly to laying hens whose eggs have already been sold. Laferriere said that 1 to 2 percent was fed to broiling chickens. Some of the feed also went to turkeys. The names of the rendering plant and feed mill have not been released.
The federal health department, Health Canada, conducted a qualitative risk assessment, examining the likelihood of the enzyme surviving the rendering process, the proportion of piglets that went into the feed and how farm animals would digest the enzyme if it did survive rendering.
"We determined that the potential to cause any human health or safety concerns would be very, very low or minimal," said Dr. William Yan, the acting head of the office of food biotechnology with Health Canada.
At the rendering plant, the carcasses were heated for three hours at a temperature of between 100 and 130 degrees Celsius.
The lapse in the university storage system has however prompted an investigation by Environment Canada because releasing unapproved genetic material contravenes federal environmental regulations.
"Clearly it means there's room for improvement and we've got to do it. It's not something that we have to do over the next 20 years, it's something we have to do now," said Laferriere.
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