The Donkey Is Sleeping Today

Frankenfish

In Food Justice, Health, Politics on August 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm

"Welcome to the Bottom of the Food Chain"

I was vacationing by the water last weekend when I read this article in the LA Times:

Tiny AquaBounty Technologies Inc. of Waltham, Mass., says it can help feed the world. The firm has developed genetically engineered salmon that reach market weight in half the usual time.

Unlike ordinary salmon, AquaBounty’s genetically modified fish grows during the winter as well as the summer, so it reaches an 8-pound market weight in 18 months instead of 36. That’s accomplished by inserting part of a gene from an eel-like creature called the ocean pout into the growth gene of a Chinook salmon, then injecting the blended genetic material into the fertilized eggs of a North Atlantic salmon.

So much for the sushi bar.

If you don’t think this is a big deal because AquaBounty’s fish will never end up on a cedar plank on your backyard grill, you’re cold. Genetically-modified organisms are drafting off of the successful integration of genetically-modified fruits and vegetables into our food supply. Here’s how quickly genetically-engineered crops have grown as a percentage of the entire US market over the last fifteen years.

After genetically-modified fish are figured out, foul, beef and pork will not far behind which is why the AquaBounty “super salmon” is an important case:

The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve what would be the nation’s first commercial genetically modified food animal.

“This is the threshold case. If it’s approved, there will be others,” said Eric Hallerman, head of the fisheries and wildlife sciences department at Virginia Tech University. “If it’s not, it’ll have a chilling effect for years.”

Some in the fish farming industry are leery of the move toward engineered fish.

“No! It is not even up for discussion,” Jorgen Christiansen, director of communications for Oslo-based Marine Harvest, one of the world’s largest salmon producers, wrote in an e-mail.

Christiansen said his company worries “that consumers would be reluctant to buy genetically modified fish, regardless of good food quality and food safety.”

Some critics call AquaBounty’s salmon “Frankenfish.” Others say the effort is pointless.

“I don’t see the necessity of it,” said Casson Trenor of Greenpeace USA — which opposes all genetically modified organisms, including plants. “We don’t need to build a new fish.”

The FDA has completed its review of key portions of AquaBounty’s application, according to Chief Executive Ronald Stotish. Within weeks, the company expects the agency to convene an advisory committee of outside experts to weigh evidence, collect public testimony and issue a recommendation about the fish’s fitness for human consumption.

There’s that darn “fit for human consumption” phrase again. Haven’t we heard that used recently? Given the “fitness” standards the EPA and NOAA are using for fish these days, I’m not sure consumer confidence should be bolstered in AquaBounty’s new fare if it is eventually approved.

All of this experimenting on our food supply is making me sick.

Or, more to the point, I’m afraid it will make us all sick.

– SH

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