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GM pigs will not feed the world

News Section Icon Published 10/05/2013


Scientists recently revealed a genetically modified (GM) pig, which has undergone a "gene-editing" process to become "disease resistant". Some reports have suggested that "Pig 26" could "win over" GM opponents. But it hasn't won us over, and here's why.

The invention of ‘Pig 26’

"Pig 26" was invented by researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996. The Roslin researchers claim that techniques similar to those used to create the new GM pig could be used to make farm animals immune to a host of diseases.

The danger is that many of the diseases addressed will be those inherent in factory farming (i.e. the diseases that arise when large numbers of animals are housed together in close confinement).

Engineering disease resistance in farm animals should not be used as a way to keep factory farms going. The proper way to address such diseases is to keep animals in less intensive systems in which they will be less susceptible to infection. The intensification of livestock production, which could be encouraged by these genetically modified animals, would allow the animals to be crammed together even more tightly.

Amplifying global hunger

One of the main arguments put forward for GM livestock is that they will help to feed the world. But this is not the case – GM animals could well undermine attempts to feed our growing global population. GM animals are likely to be farmed industrially and fed on human-edible cereals. Such grain-based industrial livestock production is a wasteful use of cereals (not to mention damaging to the environment as it degrades water, soil and air and erodes biodiversity and ecosystems).

Research shows that feeding cereals to animals is a resource-inefficient way of producing food – much of the food value of cereals is lost during conversion from plant to animal matter. A report by the UN Environment Programme concludes that a kilo of cereals provides six times as many calories if eaten directly by people than if it is fed to livestock1. This indicates that a mere 17 percent of the calories fed to animals in the form of human-edible crops is returned for human consumption as meat or dairy products.

Far from solving the problem of world hunger, this ‘breakthrough’ may well intensify it by perpetuating the competition between humans and livestock for food. The only thing sustainable about that is the fact it risks sustaining the world’s hunger crisis.

Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor

A common-sense approach to farming

Animals should be fed in ways that avoid the excessive use of feed crops. More emphasis should be put on:

  • Raising animals on extensive pastures: The great strength of extensively reared cattle and sheep is that they convert grass into food that we can eat and are able to use land that is generally not suitable for other forms of food production.
  • Integrated crop/livestock production: The World Bank is extremely positive about the benefits of mixed farming as crop residues and locally grown crops can be used to feed animals. Moreover, their manure, rather than being a pollutant, fertilises the land and improves soil quality. 
  • Reducing food waste: The European Commission’s Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe points out that in the EU we waste 90 million tonnes of food every year, or 180 kg per person. Reducing food waste would enable many more people to be fed. The waste that cannot be avoided should, subject to stringent safeguards, be fed to pigs and poultry, replacing much of the current cereal- and soy-based feeds.

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