The prospect of someone feasting high on the hog - the Vietnamese potbellied variety that some people keep as pets - had one pig owner squealing.

Three of the miniature porkers were to be among the menagerie in the Biosphere II project, scheduled to begin in March. There was a possibility that one of the critters might become dinner for the closed environment's human tenants."They're domestic pets; they've never been raised or used for food in this country," said Ingrid Henze, 32, of Los Angeles, a pig owner who protested.

Fear not: Their ribs have been spared.

The portly potbellied porcus has been removed from the larder. The Ossabaw swine, a feral pygmy breed found in Georgia, will forage in its stead.

The pigs were to join about 3,800 other plant and animal species and a crew of four men and four women in March on a two-year stay in a 3-acre, sealed compound like a giant greenhouse.

The Biosphere's areas of desert, ocean, marshes, savannah and rain forest make it the most comprehensive effort to duplicate Earth's environment as a possible prototype for space living.

Its environments, plus an intensive agriculture area and housing for the humans, will be sealed and all air, water and wastes will be recycled.

Pigs are needed because they are extremely efficient recyclers, capable of rapidly converting to fertilizer roughages such as the stems of broccoli plants that other animals will not touch.

"Sort of like a quick compost machine," said Biosphere spokeswoman Kathleen Dyhr.

And in a closed environment, smallness counts.

Potbellied pigs weigh 50 to 150 pounds, about the size of the Georgia pig. Some varieties of swine raised for food weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

A proposal to substitute the Georgia pig as more appropriate for the Biosphere's needs had been under review for about the past nine months, "independently of the pig people," Dyhr said.

She said Biosphere II received four or five complaints, but she declined to say if they caused the switch. She noted that several animal species, including types of deer, chicken and goat, have been changed during the planning.

And in any case, said Kayla Mull, "these are not good pork chops. These are lard-hogs. They make fat." Mull has bred potbellied pigs since 1985 through Creatures of Comfort in Norco, near Los Angeles.

The wild Georgia pigs, accustomed to the warm and humid climate in Biosphere II, also will be more adaptable to eating greens, Dyhr said. Their role as ham will be secondary, though they are more suitable for meat production than the potbellied pigs, she added.

Another factor against the potbellied variety, Dyhr said, was that they're expensive.

Their popularity as pets means a healthy neutered male, tamed and vaccinated, can cost $1,500 to $2,500, and breeding stock at least $5,000, said Kiyoko Hancock. She operates the International Gold Star Registry Service, publishes Pig Tale Times and breeds potbellied pigs in Pescadero, Calif., south of San Francisco.

The pets, also known as Chinese potbellied pigs, are indigenous to Southeast Asia. Hancock said virtually all the animals in the United States stem from potbellieds sent from Vietnam to the East Berlin Zoo in the 1950s. Twelve sows and four boars were imported from Germany into Canada around 1985, with offspring brought into this country, she said.

Mull put the potbellied pig population at between 6,000 and 10,000, "multiplying like mice."

Henze and her boyfriend have had their porcine pal, named Forbes, for more than a year. She had wanted a pet "more sophisticated and interesting than a dog," without smell, barking, shedding or fleas.

"And we've never been happier," she said. "He's small, he's clean, he's quiet. He's basically a housepig, he's housebroken, he's a very sophisticated, intelligent animal, very interesting."

Said Mull: "Visualize a dog that never smells bad, never has to have a bath, that will sleep on the bed all night without waking you up barking at the sound of a fire engine."