Fishing for Genetically Engineered Food

UPDATE, Nov. 2015:

GMO Salmon Approval Results in Support and Disapproval: Proponenets call the fish sustainable, while some environmentalists are up in arms.

 As this NYTimes article reports, federal regulators approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption, clearing the last major obstacle for the first genetically altered animal to reach American supermarkets and dinner tables.  

And this story from AgriPulse: The Food and Drug Administration has approved a fast-growing, genetically engineered salmon for commercial sale, making it the first biotech animal cleared for human consumption.

Also check out the CAST Commentary: The Science and Regulation of Food from Genetically Engineered Animals (free download here at CAST’s website). Led by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a task force of experts examines current regulations, criticisms of the process, and implications for the future. The commentary focuses on a case study of the AquAdvantage salmon proposal, but the findings have far-reaching effects.

You might also want to take a little time off to go fishing by checking out this earlier blog on the biotech issue.

Genetically Engineered Salmon Story is More Than a Fish Tale

When we fished the farm creek in the early ’60s, we were after bullheads and chubs, and I doubt any of us pre-teens would have known how to spell “salmon,” let alone catch one. We definitely would not have understood genetic modification, and I don’t recall Flash Gordon genetically engineering much of anything in the early science fiction I read by the glow of the night-light back then.

But looking back on it, I think we did have genetically engineered fish. The chubs all looked clone-like. They were shiny, small, and void of any personality, like minnows on steroids. We threw them back as soon as we could get the hooks removed. We older kids would then thread a freshly dug night crawler onto a barb for the little ones and toss our cork bobbers into a deeper area by a fallen tree or on a bend in the pasture. We wanted to catch our version of a science-fiction fish. To a ten-year-old, bullheads had to be the result of genetic engineering: oily skin, flat heads with beady eyes, and stingers ready to paralyze careless kids.

We only caught a few bullheads and none of us was stung. Bumble bees, poison ivy, and wayward hooks were more treacherous. But we kept hoping to catch the big one. We knew a monster bullhead was lurking somewhere in the deeper backwater areas of the creek.

Occasionally we had a few odd fish to take home, but Mom wasn’t much interested in cooking up the remains of the day. We lived in hog and cattle country, so fish was not one of our basic food groups.

Fish is a huge part of the worldwide food system, however, and the current debate about GE salmon gives us a taste of the growing controversies in the food production complex. People need to eat: growing populations, finite arable land, and changing climate patterns equal a global need for food. But environmental issues and uncertainties about health keep some hesitant about moving forward with GE/GM/GMO expansion. The salmon controversy could be headed in the same direction that many other ag-issues have gone: bold generalizations and superficial discussions leading to polarized groups and unsatisfactory policy. Credible research is the best way to work it out.

Most of us are eating GM plants now, and the debate about genetically engineered animals has moved onto the front pages. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) encourages the public and policymakers to be informed, do the research, stay objective, and use a science-based, thoughtful approach to solving challenges. The CAST commentary about GE foods is one avenue. I would say something about CASTing around for other enlightening publications, but that type of pun is definitely one worthy of being thrown back in the water. Happy Fishing. by dan gogerty

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