Next time someone calls you a pig, consider it a compliment — scientists have helped produce low-fat pigs with 24 percent less body fat than standard swine. And no, they didn’t just put a bunch of pigs on a diet.
They also didn’t do it because they cared at all about your diet. Chinese scientists used genetic engineering to modify the genes of pigs not to make slimmer sausages, but rather in the hopes that the leaner litter would be cheaper to raise and suffer less when the weather got cold. We think mass-producing tiny pig sweaters would have been a way cuter way to handle this problem — but that probably would have been more expensive than messing with pig DNA.
The new breed of pigs were given a gene that allows them to regulate internal temperatures by burning body fat. The low-fat nature of the animals was simply a side effect of a crafty solution to the usually portly porkers’ chronic coldness.
“They could maintain their body temperature much better, which means that they could survive better in the cold weather,” the project’s head researcher, Jianguo Zhao, told NPR. The researchers are reportedly excited about the solution, claiming that it kills two birds with one stone. Better pigs, better meat.
However, other scientists aren’t so sure these pigs are better.
Though they’re lower in fat, they’re also genetically modified — making them extremely controversial for consumers in the U.S. and some other countries. R. Michael Roberts, a professor in the department of animal sciences at the University of Missouri, doubts the Food and Drug Administration would ever dare approve these GMO pigs. He also doubts Americans would ever eat them.
“I very much doubt that this particular pig will ever be imported into the USA,” he told NPR, “and secondly, whether it would ever be allowed to enter the food chain.”
Plus, would the genetic modification — a process ironically called CRISPR-Cas9 — produce a crispier cut of bacon? Since bacon derives much of its taste and texture from the pigs’ fat, this is doubtful — despite Zhao’s claims that they’re delicious. If the taste holds up, “diet bacon” might just be the newest wacky way people eat bacon around the world.