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CNN Cover Story

Aired September 26, 2010 - 19:30   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is the "CNN Cover Story."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like an Atlantic salmon.

LEMON: You may have heard this week's news about the first genetically engineered animal that the government may approve for people to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It tastes like an Atlantic salmon.

LEMON: And Atlantic salmon that grows twice as fast as nature's own, but after the salmon waiting down the road meets enviropig.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I need to wash up, shower up this row.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In order to visit a pig.

CHERNOFF: To meet a pig.

LEMON: We took the journey to meet the next generation of genetically engineered (INAUDIBLE). Will these new animals be safe to eat? Will they be good or bad for our environment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost like olive oil.

LEMON: And what do some of the world's great chefs at an exclusive pig roast make of it all?

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon and welcome to the "CNN Cover Story." Tonight and all week, CNN is taking a cross country food journey. We have sent reporting teams to every corner of America and beyond. Our mission is to get fresh answers about how our food is grown. How the choices we make impact our health and our state of mind, our budgets and the pure joy of eating, of course.

We have teamed up with a new on-line destination, it's called, to bring you "Eatocracy, Mind, Body, Wallet." And we begin with an animal called enviropig, by its developers. Why such a name? We sent CNN's Allan Chernoff to Canada to find out.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's about an hour's drive from Toronto to the University of Guelph where scientists created the first enviropig where it's offspring live today. (on camera): The enviropig is a genetically enhanced pig. But what could be environmental about a pig? I mean, after all, a pig is a pig.


CHERNOFF: Thanks for having us.

(voice-over): Professor Richard Moccia oversees research studies at the University of Guelph where scientists have been trying to solve the problem of pollution from pig manure. They're attempting to do that by improving a hog's ability to digest the nutrient phosphorus in corn and other feed.

(on camera): It says here, swine reception. Definitely a smell of swine around here.

(voice-over): Even though the pigs smell, it's the visitors who need to wash up.

MOCCIA: One of our goals is to maintain very, very high status we're trying to eliminate disease causing organisms into the swine herd inside this facility.

CHERNOFF (on camera): So you're telling me I need to wash up, shower up, disrobe in order to visit our pigs.

MOCCIA: To meet a big.

CHERNOFF: Absolutely.

We're now sparkling clean and ready to meet our pigs. Big guys. And girls. This is the enviropig.

MOCCIA: This is the enviropig.

CHERNOFF: It looks just like a pig.

MOCCIA: It looks, sounds, acts identical to a normal Yorkshire pig.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): But it is different, genetically. To create this pig, scientists have added an E. Coli bacteria gene and mouse DNA to a normal pig embryo. The new genetic material causes a change in the pig's saliva. We'll explain in a minute why that's important.

MOCCIA: We actually don't know what it tastes like because there have never been any human exposure trials where people have eaten products from the enviropig.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Nobody has ever eaten a portion of the enviropig?

MOCCIA: No one's ever eaten any portion of an enviropig. We have done extensive testing on the various internal organs and different meat cuts from the enviropig, looked at the nutritional content and the amount of protein and fat and minerals and other things contained in the pig. They're identical to a normal Yorkshire pig.

CHERNOFF: These are the ninth generation of enviropigs. The first was conceived here back in 1999, but not until 2007 did scientists apply to the FDA for approval for these kinds of pigs to be eaten.

(voice-over): But the original idea was not to create a bigger, tastier pig.

(on camera): Why create a pig like this?

MOCCIA: To try to control and reduce the environmental footprints of pig farming around the world. By reducing the amount of phosphorous that the pig produces.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Phosphorous is a nutrient that helps the pigs grow but that they can't fully digest. So much of it comes out in their manure. Farmers use that manure as fertilizer. When it rains, some of the manure runs off into the watershed, meaning plenty of phosphorus gets into our rivers and lakes.

(on camera): Phosphorous promotes algae growth. Too much phosphorus in a body of water like the Speed River here in Guelph that goes in to Lake Eerie can cause algae blooms that suck up all the oxygen and destroy habitats for fish and other aquatic life.

(voice-over): The enviropigs genetic additions allow it to create an enzyme that helps it digest more phosphorus, about 50 percent more according to researchers. That means half as much comes out in its manure. And that's why it's called enviropig.

The University of Guelph says it believes FDA is more than halfway through analyzing its application though the agency won't reveal where the process stands.

LARISA RUDENKO, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: I think people are particularly concerned about genetic engineering and what I can tell the American public is that the FDA has a very rigorous process for assessing the safety of food from such animals and that no food from a genetically-engineered animal will go on the market unless the FDA has demonstrated it is safe.

CHERNOFF: The head of the Center for Food Safety, an organization promoting organic agriculture says when it comes to enviropig, hog farming needs to change. Not the pigs.

ANDREW KIMBRELL, CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY: It's a completely novel cell invasion technology we are crossing the boundaries of nature as no other generation has before and the question is, whether that is safe, or that is something that we should be doing ethically. Those are very serious questions that we as a society need to be asking.

CHERNOFF: These little piggies will never go off to market, but their great, great grandchildren just might if regulators give the OK. If so, their ability to reduce pollution in our waterways could sustain another food source. Fish. Imagine that. A pig that protects fish.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, Guelph, Ontario.


LEMON: They are cute, aren't they? When the "CNN Cover Story" returns, how to address the health questions you may have about eating genetically-engineered animals. The fast growing genetically engineered salmon that's up for FDA approval.

This kid, Paul Greenberg, has an interesting perspective now that he is the grownup author of "Four Fish, The Future of the Last Wild Food" and as for the enviropig, why the pit masters of pork don't want any part of it.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone to the "CNN Cover Story." We're kicking off an entire week of CNN special coverage on food. A fresh look at how it affects your state of mind, your body and your wallet. Our focus tonight, genetically engineered animals.

This week, the FDA has been considering an application by a company called Aqua Bounty for a salmon it says grows twice as quickly as the Atlantic salmon you find in the sea. Here's the company's president and trying to make the case for approval.


RONALD STOTISH, PRES., AQUABOUNTY TECHNOLOGIES: We do not believe that there is any material difference between this AquaBounty salmon and an Atlantic salmon. This meets the definition as defined and accepted by the FDA and every objective and (INAUDIBLE) measure investigated by the firm over the last 15 years, this is an Atlantic salmon.


LEMON: So joining us right now for a unique perspective on this new genetically-engineered salmon is a man whose mom bought him a cheap aluminum boat when he was only 13 years old. And that gave Paul Greenberg access to the ocean and a perspective on how the ocean has changed since he was a child. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Greenberg. You're the author of the popular new book, it's called "Four Fish, the Future of the Last Wild Food."

So it's how over fishing has endangered our ocean. Paul, it would seem engineering fish that grows twice as fast could take pressure off wild fish struggling to survive over fishing.

PAUL GREENBERG, AUTHOR "FOUR FISH": Well, Don, it doesn't. In a word. The thing is our consumption of salmon has doubled over the last 20 years, not just wild salmon but farm salmon. And if we come up with a genetically-modified salmon that grows twice as fast, we're just going to eat twice as much salmon and we're also going to continue to eat the wild salmon and we're going to continue to eat the farm salmon. So I really don't think this is going to take pressure off. No example in history has ever - of ever farming fish has ever really taken pressure off wild stock. It's just not the way to go about it.

LEMON: And there's some concern about whether or not these genetically-altered fish, if it does happen to go into the ocean, into the food chain, that's a serious concern, isn't it?

GREENBERG: It is. And you know, it's interesting to look at AquaBounty's plan. What they want to do is they want to grow their genetically modified eggs in Canada, then they fly them to Panama where they outgrow them to full size in the mountains of Panama. And then finally slaughter them there and send them to the United States.

I mean, to me, it sounds like the Iran contra deal of fish. Why aren't they growing them in the United States? The reason is because if they grow them in the United States, they'd have to do a full environmental impact study and they don't want to do that. They're trying to ram this through FDA, in my opinion.

LEMON: And they're saying, you know, I'm hearing, it's not going to go to the food chain because it's going to be separate from the ocean and they're going to keep it separate but you know, someone is going to do it or take one of the fish or what have you, someone, an angry employee or something and might introduce it into our food chain.

GREENBERG: Absolutely. And the thing is, what we have to remember is that Atlantic salmon, the fish that the AquaBounty fish was modified from, is an endangered species. The fish is commercially extinct. There is no longer a viable fish reef for this fish anymore. They're very, very vulnerable and threatened. If any of these fish get out, yet from a flooded vent in Prince Edward Island when these fish are washed out to sea, or perhaps later on, AquaBounty's plan is to grow this fish, they say they want to grow them within range of U.S. population centers to reduce the food miles. Well, 80 percent of the world's population lives near the coast. So if you're growing these fish eventually in the United States, it's a huge risk to Atlantic salmon.

LEMON: Paul, I have to play devil's advocate here. Because we're already eating in some ways genetically engineered food, aren't we?

GREENBERG: Sure, there is genetically modified soy and so forth. But you know, the thing is, we're dealing with trying to farm genetically- modified animals in the presence of wild animals. We still have wild Atlantic salmon out there. We still have many millions of wild Pacific salmon out there. If we care about these wild food system, if we want them to maintain their robustness and their ability to feed us, then we cannot introduce a genetically-modified organism that has even the slightest threat of coming into contact with these fish.

LEMON: All right. Paul Greenberg, thank you, sir. He is the author of "Four Fish, the Future of the Last Wild Food." And I want to tell you that we did reach out to the president of Aqua Bounty for this show, who did want to come on, but had a scheduling conflict. And we will follow up to get his reaction and try to continue this discussion on-line.

Next on the CNN cover story. What questions we all should be asking about whether genetically-engineered animals are safe to eat. And CNN's gets access to a pork lover's dream.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to the "CNN Cover Story." You've met enviropig, you've heard about the new genetically-engineered salmon being examined by the FDA. We want a fresh perspective on whether genetically engineered animals will be safe to eat.

So, we've chosen Dr. John Swartzberg, not an expert on genetic engineering but an M.D. who spent 25 years in clinical practice. He is now head of the U.C. Berkeley Wellness which focuses on nutrition, preventative medicine and overall well-being. Thank you, Dr. Schwartz for joining us.


LEMON: What is it that you want to know before you would eat genetically engineered meat or any other genetically-engineered food?

SWARTZBERG: I think this falls under the notion of what we've been calling for the last 10, 15 years, the precautionary principle. It's the idea that if something new is going to be introduced, for example, like genetically-engineered food to human beings, then the burden of proof that it's safe, effective, not an environmental problem falls on the people who introduced it as opposed to proving that isn't dangerous.

So that's really the issue here. This is not a new concept. In medicine, we've had this idea of first do no harm since the time of Hippocrates and it's very much of the same thing. It's really where to draw the line.

LEMON: Yes. And I think the concern for most people is that you see girls becoming young ladies sooner because of the hormones in food and other situations like that. And I think that's a concern for the average person. They don't know what's being introduced into these foods and how it might affect their bodies?

SWARTZBERG: Absolutely. And ultimately, we have to decide if a product is safe. And to do that, it's where we put that fulcrum, where we put that point of say. It's the product that's being introduced is absolutely critical and so necessary that it must come very soon, then, of course, we're going to compromise some on the safety.

On the other hand, the product is not critical that we can take some time with and study very carefully, then that's what we should be doing.

LEMON: So there's a question, what about, you know, what can you do, let's just say that the genetically engineered, altered salmon, they are introduced and they are allowed to go on, so what do you? If you don't want it, then just don't eat it? What about at spillover effect? What if this is used in other things like in different spreads or what have you or things that you put on your food or in your sandwiches?

SWARTZBERG: Right. These things are going to have to be hammered out very carefully. There are implications far beyond safety both for humans as well as the environment. There are implications that have to do with legality. There are implications of how you're going to let people advertise these products and label them. There are philosophical issue, ethical issues and of course there are religious issues. So it's a very complicated topic.

LEMON: Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor of medicine of UC Berkeley Wellness Center. Thank you, sir.

SWARTZBERG: Thank you.

LEMON: All right. When "The Cover Story" returns, our own Kat Kinsman of CNN's brings us inside - you're going to love this. It is a pork lover's dream.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN "Cover Story." We began our program with the new genetically engineered enviropig and we end it with some, well, more old fashioned pork. Our guide is Kat Kinsman. She's the managing editor of CNN's new food destination, Great personality. Love hanging out with her. You had a pretty good weekend and why didn't you bring any more for us?

KAT KINSMAN, CNN'S EATOCRACY.COM: My goodness. It doesn't transport well. I brought some kidneys home for myself.

LEMON: Excuses.

KINSMAN: This was a pork lover's dream, the French culinary institute got together chefs from Italy and the south and the Frenchmen and just celebrated pig that was raised in the old-fashioned way.

LEMON: You're killing me.

KINSMAN: Let pigs be pigs.

LEMON: Let's look.


KINSMAN (on camera): Today, we're here to enjoy some serious pig. People who are cooking here today are very careful about how they raise their pigs. They're looking to the past. They're going to heirloom, organically-fed heritage breeds of pig, and they feel that they are just more humanely raised and moreover, they just taste better. Let's get some pig.

ED MITCHELL, EXECUTIVE CHEF, "THE PIT": For me, I like to get the hardest breeds or the breeds that basically was raised in a natural environment.

KINSMAN: So what part of the pig is this?

MITCHELL: Actually, this is the whole pig. What you do first is just get a piece over here without any sauce on it

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This tastes very Eastern to me.

MITCHELL: It is, sir, it is. You're my guy. I didn't have to pay him to say that either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I grew up eating Lexicon barbecue.


This stuff here. This is the fat. I mean, it's almost like olive oil. You know, that's the key.

KINSMAN: I love crackling. Is that look like a good piece?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the piece right there. Now I didn't give her the piece this time.

KINSMAN: That's a beautiful pigskin right there, just cracking in my teeth.

MITCHELL: One thing I know for sure, the big master he made everything perfect for the beginning. That's my personal belief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we like it do now is we're going to place the back legs or we can do, we can push it forward. We have the shoulder here. We have the belly right there. We have the ribs.

KINSMAN: This might be a little too graphic for TV, but the chefs right now are butchering the pigs, we just had a little history lesson about where the pigs came from, their happy lives, what they were fed. These, we were talking to all these different chefs about the importance of having a happy pig.

PETER KAMINSKY, AUTHOR "PIG PERFECT": A perfect pig is an animal that's been raised to about 15 to 18 months. He's got a lot of fat in between those muscle fibers so he's very succulent. He's not one of those pork chops (INAUDIBLE).

KINSMAN: Could be the world's greatest pig be achieved through scientific means?


KINSMAN: Why is that?

KAMINSKY: We barely have the science to make, you know, synthetic rubber. Let alone synthetic animals.

CESARE CASELLA, DEAN, ITALIAN CULINARY ACADEMY: Especially the prosciutto, you make it with three things, happy pigs, sea salt, air. KINSMAN: This is good.

CASELLA: We talk about the fat. This is all the fat.

KINSMAN: Oh and is this lard?


This is absolute - this is just heaven. This is just pure expression of pig.

DOROTHY HAMILTON, CEO, THE INTERNATIONAL CULINARY CENTER: I don't want a pig that's genetically modified. I want pigs that are raised like pigs should be raised. And I want people to send as much time figure out how this is a beneficial way to help the land. They don't rape the land by raising a pig on it, they add to it.

KINSMAN: Dive in and enjoy this. Because this is as good as it gets.


LEMON: Oh, Kat, that looks awes awesome. Kat Kinsman, CNN's We'll be seeing a lot of you this week on CNN's special coverage of "Eatocracy, Mind, Body and Wallet." That's the CNN "Cover Story" for this Sunday, September 26th.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. "What the Pope Knew," a special report starts right now.