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Transgenic Pigs end up as Chicken Feed

Transgenic Pigs End Up
as Chicken Feed

CANADA: February 21, 2002

WINNIPEG - As three Canadian federal agencies investigate how
genetically modified piglets ended up in poultry feed, experts
stressed this week 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 this week, 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-tonne batch 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.

Story by Kanina Holmes


REUTERS NEWS SERVICE


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