Life as an Extreme Sport

The Daily: Green Pigs and Ham

Green pigs and ham
Publish Date: 2006-04-03

Although only their shells are green, the Araucana chicken has brought us green eggs for years. But until now, our ham has been a nice, hammy shade of pink.

No more — these days, even our pigs can be turned green.

While it’s not new, per se, the jellyfish pigs — so called because they have the glowing jellyfish protein inserted into their genetic material while still embryos — have been in the news again lately for two reasons.

The first is the “achievement,” announced in January by Taiwanese researchers, of the creation of jellyfish pigs that glow, inside and out. From snout to eyes to liver and heart, these oinkers are fluorescent green through and through.

The second scientific announcement came March 26, in the online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology (the print copy will be released this month). A group of scientists from Harvard Medical School, the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have created five tiny white piglets whose muscle tissue is “larded” with omega-3 fatty acids.

Almost anyone can tell you that omega-3 fatty acids are typically associated with fish, and believed to be “heart-healthy” — to lower cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease.

While it hasn’t yet been concretely shown that these fatty acids will survive from pig to table, the hope is they will, so that a “healthy” version of bacon and other pork products can be produced.

If the genetically modified pigs do retain their omega-3 fatty acids, the researchers have plans to expand beyond pigs, creating cows who produce the fatty acids in their milk to chickens laying fatty-acid-enhanced eggs (now to simply get Araucana chickens to do this).

And why is this a good thing?

Well, as reported in The New York Times, Alexander Leaf, professor emeritus of clinical medicine at Harvard, said that genetically modified pork and other foods with omega-3 fatty acids would eventually get to the consumer, and “people can continue to eat their junk food … you won’t have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.”

But the problems with diet and obesity in this country will not be solved by changing the genetic content of the food we eat; as the Snackwell craze proved several years back, it doesn’t matter if food is labeled healthy, or non-fat — if you regularly eat a box of Snackwells in one sitting, you’re going to gain weight.

Likewise, changing the makeup of a pig isn’t going to mean you can suddenly eat all the bacon in the world and never gain weight or have any problems.

Regular bacon is bad to eat in massive amounts — the key is not genetically modifying pigs to produce omega-3 fatty acids. The key is learning to eat in moderation.

As Queen Latifah so eloquently said on The Daily Show last Thursday, “Don’t mess with bacon!”

If you want to eat healthy bacon, have turkey bacon.

While it is hard to argue against the lifesaving potential of some genetically modified organisms, especially those that will help relieve famine and create disease tolerant plants (and potentially animals) in Third World countries, that is not the case here.

We’re deluding ourselves if we think that the key to managing our health is in managing and modifying the genomes of the food we eat.

I do not like green pigs and ham, I do not like it, Kelly I am. I do not like them here or there, I do not like GMOs anywhere.

3 comments

  1. Not so much lapsed as raised in the Church, got politely asked to not come back to CCD class until I adjusted my attitude and apparel to conform to proper Church standards, and never managed to do either.

    I went atheist, then agnostic for quite a few years. I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for the past nine years, though, and don’t see that changing any time soon. 🙂

  2. Please consider this: Unspeakable cruelty (Robert F Kennedy, Jr.,
    factory farming in US and Canada…and out of control pollution
    is putting the squeeze on meat consumption.

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