or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Genetically Modified Salmon
Earlier this week I posted a link to a story regarding the AquAdvantage genetically modified salmon. In the days since, I have become fascinated by this concept. I have consumed dozens of articles on the topic and several related topics. I have also read the companies literature on the topic and reviewed the data they sent to the FDA. I have come to a very specific conclusion on this issue. Everyone needs to take a deep breathe and look at the big picture.
The AquAdvantage Salmon is for all intensive purposes an Atlantic Salmon. As you might recall from a previous post on salmon, all commercial Atlantic Salmon is farm raised since it was fished to near extinction in the Atlantic. The AquAdvatage Salmon has two major differences. They introduced the growth hormone of the much larger Coho Salmon and a cool water tolerance gene found in the eelpout. These modifications allow the salmon to grow to market size in half the time.
The reaction of the media has been to call this “Frankenfish” and begin writing the obituaries of wild salmon species. I have received invites to join groups that will gladly make my opposition known in return for giving them all of my facebook information and access to my friends. I have read about this being the first genetically engineered product designed for the dinner table. Others have written about the “Trojan Gene” and how only a handful of escaped AquAdvantage Salmon can wipe out wild species in only a few generations. Doomsday is upon us and it begins with an oceanic apocalypse.
All of this hysteria is based upon two issues: fear of the unknown and the “Trojan Gene.” Fear of the unknown is a constant among those who preach against genetically modified food. I can honestly say no topic in the world makes me as angry as those who preach against genetically modified food without addressing the alternative. Without genetically modified crops a large portion of the world’s population does not eat. Within the last 70 years we have nearly eradicated starvation relative to where we began due to the use of genetically modified crops. Those who preach against them in spite of this knowledge generally do so out of a belief in the myth of over population. Those who perpetuate this myth are generally of a socioeconomic status that makes them safe from being “overpopulated” out of existence. I advocate giving starving people something to eat instead of debating ethical dilemmas about strains of grain. I tend to believe the starving people are on my side on this topic.
The “Trojan Gene” argument is the scientific “proof” that this is a bad idea. This theory explains how genetically modified fish are chosen as genetically superior as a mate in the wild. These larger fish will pass on their modified genes to their partner and over generations no non-modified fish will continue their pure bloodline. The “Trojan Gene” theory is based on a study conducted by scientists from Purdue University using the Japanese Medaka. The Medaka is a prolific fish that is commonly used in scientific testing. They put this data through models that showed if only 60 genetically modified Medaka were released into a wild population of 60,000 then all fish would carry the new genetic marker in just 40 generations.
This is an example of where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A brief look at the differences between salmon and medaka clarify the issue. Medakas are a school fish that reproduce numerous times in their life and can do so under various conditions. Salmon are not school fish that reproduce once and only in fresh water near the end of their life. The correlation drawn between the medakas used to prove the “Trojan Gene” theory and potential effects on salmon are wrought with flaws.
Furthermore, this theory ignores the various safeguards in place. The company that produces the AquAdvantage Salmon will only be shipping sterile female fish. The salmon are not intended to breed and are raised to shipping age in contained environments where no contact with other fish is possible. Currently this is done in Panama where no salmon of any type can survive. Atlantic Salmon that escape from currently operating salmon farms have shown little ability to survive upon escaping due to a developed reliance on being fed grain. Escape rates are low and escaped salmon living out its life cycle to reproduction is virtually unheard of.
Now that I have addressed all of the “unknowns” that we are told to fear by the people carrying on this campaign against the AquAdvantage Salmon in the name of protecting the environment, lets look at what we do know. A few months back I wrote a post outlining seven environmental issues directly related to farm raised salmon. Of these seven issues, six are substantially improved by use of AquAdvantage Salmon. There will be less need for antibiotics and cleansing chemicals due to the fact that they will be in the pen for less time. This will also reduce the level of salmon lice. They will consume far less fishmeal and fish oil during their lifecycle reducing their human aided competition with other fish vying for those feeding stocks. This shorter life cycle and lessened diet will decrease impacts on the ocean floor and PCB levels. All of the effects in combination will actually decrease competition with native wild salmon.
In an effort to protect the environment, the hysteria machine is actually harming it. The AquAdvantage Salmon will lessen the impact of salmon farming rather then magnify it. I still hold true to my personal belief that all farm-raised salmon should be avoided. I would serve the AquAdvatnage Salmon to my guests who order it with a clean conscious though. If you are going to eat farm raised salmon I believe this is superior to what is currently on the market when environmental concerns are properly weighted.
What do you think? Are there other concerns you have about this product? I am open to a lively debate in the comment section. Keep it polite. I am sure someone reading this has an opinion. Why not share it with others?