Pioneer GM pigs now face the end of the line

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A LINE of genetically modified pigs, which might have provided the first GM animals approved for human consumption, faces an unexpectedly early end.

Scientists at the University of Guelph, west of Toronto, bred the first GM pig in 1999.

The animal – known as Enviropig – digested its feed more efficiently than naturally-bred pigs, resulting in waste likely to cause less environmental damage.

The project produced eight generations of Enviropigs, including the current herd of 16 animals. But they may be the last of their kind, the Reuter’s news agency reports.

Ontario Pork, an association of hog farmers in the eastern Canadian province where the university is located, withdrew funding last month, after putting more than $1m (Canadian) into it since it started.

A spokesman is quoted as saying: “It’s probably best for industry to take it forward. When you’re the first of anything, it’s tough to get it out of the gate.”

Peter Phillips, a professor of public policy at Saskatchewan University, told Reuter’s that Enviropig had failed to attract food business investors interested in commercialising the pigs, “possibly because environmental benefit doesn’t necessarily translate into more profit”.

The researchers applied several years ago for approval for human food consumption from the US Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada but neither of those regulators has made a decision.

Unless the university finds a fresh source of major funding it will euthanise the animals and place their genetic material in cold storage, said Lori Bona Hunt, a spokeswoman for the University of Guelph.

Research could continue without live animals, mainly through analysing data, she added.

Canada is the world’s third largest pork exporter.