Processor says no to Enviropig

A Quebec pork processor assures environmental groups that it won't use a genetically modified pig designed to be environmentally friendly even if it's eventually approved by Health Canada

© AgMedia Inc.
Better Farming
March 22, 2011

If Enviropig starts being produced on pig farms here one major Canadian pork processor says it isn't interested in processing meat from the genetically modified animals.

In a March 1 letter to two representatives from groups critical of Enviropig, Rejean Nadeau, president and CEO of Olymel, says his company doesn't intend to market pork meat from genetically modified pigs either nationally or internationally. "Also Olymel supports mandatory labelling of products derived from genetically modified pigs."

Enviropig hasn't been approved by Health Canada for human consumption but its developers at the University of Guelph applied two years ago to have it assessed.

Nadeau made his comments in response to letters from Lucy Sharrat of Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and Cathy Holtslander of Saskatoon-based Beyond Factory Farming, a national organization promoting socially responsible livestock production in Canada. The network campaigns for food sovereignty and environmental justice.

In their letters, Sharrat and Holtslander asked Quebec-based Olymel if it would process and sell meat from genetically modified pigs.

Nadeau says in his letter one of Olymel's top priorities is consumer protection. The company makes every effort to offer consumers a product that meets the highest standards of safety and quality. "We are also subject to the regulations of several countries as approximately 50 per cent of our production is exported outside of Canada and we take into the account the concerns of all our customers in our business decisions."

Keith Robbins, Ontario Pork spokesman, says he won't comment on a processor's statement.

The genetically modified pig, trade named Enviropig, was developed by University of Guelph researchers and is designed to reduce phosphorus pollution of surface and ground water and farmers' feed costs. Enviropig excretes less phosphorous manure, which proponents argue makes it a more environmentally type of pig.

University of Guelph spokesperson Lori Bona Hunt says in an email the university has applications into federal agencies in the United States and Health Canada to assess Enviropig for human food and animal feed. The applications are "currently under review and it is not known when or even if they will be completed."

The application to Health Canada was submitted on April 23, 2009, she says, noting the application doesn't have a mandatory or acknowledged deadline for a decision.

Another group concerned about the possible approval of Enviropig for production in Canada is the National Farmers Union. Earlier this month, Sean McGivern, the union's Ontario coordinator, made a presentation to Ontario Pork's board and senior staff. He told them Enviropig isn't the answer to surface and ground water pollution but that good farm management is.
McGivern says the real cause of phosphorous pollution in water is the concentration of hog confinement facilities and the number of animals in them and not the pigs themselves.

"If people really have a phosphorous problem they can feed a phytase supplement at less than 50 cents a hog," he says.

Robbins says Ontario Pork received the information from the NFU and appreciates that's their position but "we're also looking at it in the broad perspective of looking at ways to improve life and improve quality and improve the process and that would include aspects of challenging those norms especially in the environmental area."

Over 10 years, Ontario Pork contributed $1.2 million for research into developing Enviropig. Robbins says Ontario Pork doesn't have a stance on Enviropig. It's just one of the many research projects the organization has funded over the years.

"We're looking at it as potential solution to a potential problem that was existing," Robbins says, noting they still consider Enviropig as a potential option to reduce farmers' feed costs.

The groups critical of Enviropig are asking the university, Ontario Pork and Health Canada to stop the approval process.  McGivern says if Enviropig is approved they're concerned the Ontario industry will lose export markets because consumers both domestically and internationally won't accept genetically modified pork.

"Even if it's released in a controlled environment, which we don't believe is really possible, we're still going to be painted with the brush that all Canadian pork is genetically engineered," he says.

The next step for the groups is to hold meetings during the next two months with the chairs of Canada's national food retail chains, McGivern says.

Health Canada couldn't be reached for comment.