"Enviropigs" barred from pet-hood

Can 16 pigs from the Univ. of Guelph find a Shady Acres to call their own?More than a dozen genetically modified pigs, part of a series of experiments at an Ontario, Canada university, will not get adopted out to "loving homes." Despite a plea from an animal-rights group for the University of Guelph to release the pigs to civilian pet owners, Professor Rich Moccia, an associate vice president at the institution, claimed on Tuesday that "there is absolutely no opportunity for this to occur for many reasons."

Although Moccia didn't get into specifics, one of the reasons seems to be that the so-called "enviropigs" could represent a danger if they aren't supervised in the strict manner they are currently. Moccia acknowledged the "many generous and well intentioned offers" the university has received from both animal-protection groups and individuals interested in adopting the porcine subjects. But it seems that the risk of an enviropig either getting loose and interbreeding with "standard" local pigs, or making its way onto a dinner table, isn't one the U of G is prepared to assume, according to Moccia's remarks: "The possibility of escapement or inadvertent release, however remote, could occur, with the possibility that they could intermix with either feral or domesticated pigs, or even end up in the human food chain by accident."

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Again, it's unclear why the pigs would pose a hazard -- but regardless, the 16 Wilburs may be out of options; if homes (or new study-subject jobs) can't be found for the pigs, they may have to be put down. The pigs came into the world as part of research sponsored primarily by Ontario Pork, and were genetically altered to generate "less-polluting waste." They would have represented some of the first genetically modified pigs produced for humans to eat.

But Ontario Pork has withdrawn support – and though Moccia said the school is looking for new partners or researchers who want to continue investigating this technology, the pigs' tenure is in jeopardy. Enter Farm Sanctuary, an animal-rights group from Watkins Glen, NY, to advocate for the "happy retirement" of the porcine adjuncts. In a letter addressed to Moccia, Farm Sanctuary laid a guilt trip on the university – which "brought these animals into the world" – before arguing that the pigs "deserve a chance to live out their final years basking in sunshine, taking mud baths, and simply being pigs." The letter also noted that pigs are similar to more traditional pets like cats and dogs in terms of their emotions and behavior – as well as being quite intelligent.

Moccia might agree, and sounded rather regretful in declining the offer, but explained that university and lab protocols required the University of Guelph to maintain the pigs' care and control within strict guidelines – which makes him and the U of G legally unable to release the pigs from the necessary containment. Any other prospective "colleague" or institution that takes custody of the pigs would have to offer the same approved facilities and protocols.

Farm Sanctuary's spokesperson, Bruce Friedrich, found that "bizarre," given that the pigs' "alternative" could be death, and said the organization doesn't "believe that there is a law" prohibiting the university from working on civilian pig placements. At least, he said, "they should work with us to get an exemption."

We don't know what modifications the pigs may have undergone that could make them a danger to civilians or the uneducated public, and we don't know Ontario animal-husbandry law, either – but we hope all 16 Babes find a happy and relaxing new home. We'll keep an eye on the story and keep you updated; please share your curly pet-pig tales with us in the comments!

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