by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Developers of a genetically modified pig in which Ontario’s pork producers have invested $1.371 million see China as a potential market.
Lori Bona Hunt, a spokesperson with the University of Guelph, which has developed the animal, says in emails that the university’s business development office “is trying to find licensees, especially in China,” which has been identified as “the country with the greatest need for this technology.”
Under development since 1999, the Enviropig possesses a modification that enables it to secrete phytase in its saliva. The enzyme helps the animal digest phosphorus in feed grains without the aid of other diet supplements.
Studies show the modified Yorkshire pig excretes 30 to 60 per cent less phosphorus, a nutrient, in its manure, compared to its unmodified counterpart.
The university’s herd consists of about 12 animals that are housed in a high security, alarmed research building. The university owns the pigs and according to the project’s website, holds patents in the United States and China. Ontario Pork holds the trademark and is the only outside private investor.
“We have been a partner with the university in the development of this technology; we have been a partner in the funding for this technology,” says Curtiss Littlejohn, an Ontario Pork board member who has been the commodity organization’s liaison on the project. Littlejohn says the commodity organization is finalizing a commercialization agreement with the university that will allow it a share of the revenues generated from the technology.
He would not comment on what proportion Ontario Pork’s share of the revenues would be, explaining those details are part of the agreement, which is not complete.
Littlejohn says the purpose of the technology is to “enhance” the position of Ontario pork producers. “At this point I don’t believe that we are in a position to clearly determine what will be of benefit to Ontario producers and what may be of detriment to Ontario producers,” he says.
Licensing the technology for use in China would help that country to solve “huge’ environmental problems. He points out that royalties accompany licensing agreements and those that would “flow back to Ontario Pork would then be of a benefit to Ontario producers.”
Bona Hunt says as sole owner of the Enviropig the university is entitled to all licensing revenue.
Because the technology falls under an agreement the university has with OMAFRA, the ministry would “receive a portion of any potential net revenue. Ontario Pork would also likely receive a portion.”
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is another major supporter and over the last 10 years the project has also received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Advanced Food Materials Network, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the province’s rural economic development program.
Bona Hunt says the project’s total cost is confidential because the university is trying to find licensees. It is in the millions, she says.
Last week, Environment Canada approved the technology and noted the Enviropig is not considered harmful to the environment – as long as it is kept and reproduced in a controlled facility and is segregated from other pigs.
Obtaining approval from the ministry was one of the conditions the university had to meet to obtain government permission to commercialize the pig. “It allows us to continue to produce the line,” she says. The decision also permits the exportation of the animal. However, there are still many other approvals needed before commercialization can begin, Bona Hunt says.
Researchers have submitted requests for approvals to Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as well as with the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s not known how long it will take to obtain the approvals, says Bona Hunt.
Littlejohn says if approved, the modified pig will mean cost savings for the producer because certain feed supplements will no longer be needed. “In today’s environment, every cent that we can reduce our costs and make our producers more competitive is something we have to examine seriously,” he says.
As for whether Ontario producers would have to pay for using the technology, “at this point Ontario Pork can’t speculate on what the future will hold,” writes Mary Jane Quinn, Ontario Pork’s communication and consumer marketing representative, in an email. BF