Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

February 18, 2002

U of G supports actions of federal agencies to ensure health, safety

The University of Guelph supports the actions of federal agencies to ensure public health and safety, Alan Wildeman, the university's vice-president for research, said today. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada and Environment Canada announced that they are taking joint action to control the inadvertent disposal of genetically modified material from a Guelph research program on environmentally friendly pigs.

The university learned of the situation last week. "We immediately contacted the CFIA and took steps to prevent a reoccurrence," Wildeman said. "We are working closely with the government on its investigation."

Independently, Health Canada has conducted a qualitative risk assessment and concluded that this incident represents minimal risk to human health. "Canada has one of the most rigorous food safety assurance programs in the world," Wildeman said. "We value the diligence that these federal agencies put into ensuring public health and safety. We commend them, as well as U of G's faculty and staff, for their swift response."

A rendering company, contracted to remove deadstock from Guelph's Ridgetown campus, mistakenly removed deceased transgenic piglets. The piglets were either stillborn or accidentally crushed by the sow. The material was being stored in a freezer and awaiting transport to an approved facility for disposal. The material was labeled and wrapped in special identifying packaging, Wildeman said.

The pigs have a single modified gene that allows them to produce phytase, an enzyme that enables the pigs to digest phosphorus in the plant material they consume. This reduces the phosphorus content in their manure by up to 75 per cent. "The enzyme is the only thing that distinguishes these transgenic pigs from 'regular' pigs, and it is completely deactivated due to the very high temperatures in the rendering process," Wildeman said. "This research has produced the world's first environmentally friendly farm animals, and it will be beneficial to both the environment and to humans." Animal waste is a leading source of agricultural phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus contaminates surface and groundwater and promotes the growth of algae, reducing available oxygen to aquatic life.

"There has been a tremendous amount of study on these animals, and the success of the research to date has attracted international attention," Wildeman said. "But because the research has not reached the commercial stage, the material was not yet approved for release into the environment."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, 519-824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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