Videos and images of Cambodian pigs with extremely muscular physiques have gone viral in recent weeks, raising concerns and questions over the origin and well-being of these augmented animals. Although PETA claims that these animals have been genetically modified, there is no clear evidence to confirm this theory. It is possible that the animals were simply bred to display these characteristics. “We could do this through breeding,” said Jin-Soo Kim, a researcher at Seoul National University, “but then it would take decades.” Regardless of the specific reason for the pigs’ appearance, one can certainly add this to the already long list of unsettling happenings in the meat industry.
In 2015, Kim and his peers at Seoul National University led an experiment in which pigs were genetically modified to posses “double muscles” by altering the myostatin gene, a relatively minor tweak to the genetic code. By changing the amount of lean meat on an animal, these modifications could increase profits for animal producers. The pigs in Cambodia could have come from the same lineage. However, there is no evidence yet to confirm that this is the case.
While the US Food and Drug Administration has declared that GMO salmon is as safe to eat as natural salmon, no other GMO animal product has yet been approved for human consumption in the United States. However, pigs have been genetically modified in the past, for meat production or otherwise. The EnviroPig is a trademarked, genetically modified organism created in Canada that has been altered to produce waste that contains less phosphorus, which decreases the environmental costs of hog raising. Scientists in Japan have spliced spinach genes into pigs to create a less fatty animal. While the pigs in Cambodia may appear disturbing, there may be benefits to humans and the environment from genetic modification. However, further study is needed and animal welfare standards must be improved around the world.