A Stream of Thought on GMO Salmon

By Chuck Norris

November 27, 2015 6 min read

Given the increasing number of people now clamoring for better quality food, we may finally be reaching a tipping point. Major food producers actually appear to be starting to change their ways for the better. Demand for products with "natural" and "organic" labels continues to grow — each having increased in sales by more than 24 percent during the past two years, according to a Nielsen survey. Of those who believe that organic products are important, more than one-third of respondents to the same survey say that they are willing to pay a premium. Nearly half of those people considered natural ingredients and GMO-free food very important.

The Food and Drug Administration has reportedly cleared the way for Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies to market a man-made breed of salmon to the public, making it the first genetically engineered animal approved for food sale in this country. The FDA noted in its announcement that because of these genetic modifications, the new variety of salmon "meets the definition of a drug." The term is not reserved to chemical substance.

While genetically modified fruits and vegetables have been sold in this country for more than 20 years, the FDA has a mandatory premarket approval process for genetically engineered animals. This is why this decision is being seen as a possible game changer in the world of GMOs. According to some estimates, at least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish, chickens, pigs and cows are currently under some level of development. It is feared that the FDA's decision on salmon may set a precedent that could make approval for other genetically modified animal species easier.

By toying with the molecular makeup of Atlantic salmon and combining the genes of several, related fish species, the company's biotechnologists came up with a genetically engineered fish that grows twice as fast as its conventional, farm-raised counterpart. AquaBounty Technologies spent two decades trying to obtain regulatory approval for its creation. Apparently, after years of tests and probing, the company has also produced a new form of super lobbyist, modified to finally win approval for its controversial product.

Designated "frankenfish" by detractors, this genetically altered fish not only grows twice as fast as ordinary farmed salmon, but also consumes more to support its growth-inducing genes. They also show some reduced immune functions. Though some fear that it will soon be served in restaurants, as well as appearing at your local fish counter, industry experts believe there will be no immediate impact on consumers. Where the game changes is with fish farmers. Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that with any genetically modified organism, the biggest benefit goes to food producers, not consumers. He points out that while genetically modified corn and soy beans may save money for farmers, they don't lower prices enough for shoppers to notice a difference. Michael Pollan, food commentator and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, believes that "genetic engineering has yet to create anything that's cheaper, tastier or nutritionally enhanced."

In 1986, the FDA ruled that genetically engineered foods are substantially equivalent to conventionally produced foods. In 1992, the FDA went further to say genetically engineered crops "are generally recognized as safe."

Is it just me, or do you also see a big difference between something being "generally recognized as safe," and something being "safe"?

Alison Van Eenennaam, a biotechnology specialist at the University of California, Davis, was part of the AquaBounty Technologies scientific evaluation and states that "nothing in the data suggested that these fish were in any way unsafe."

What about dangers to human health that are not anticipated by this particular scientific evaluation? Or the long-term impacts that introducing new, hybrid species could have on the environment, in ways that are unpredictable?

I won't be eating GMO fish, if and when it's available. I'm not alone. In 2013, a New York Times poll found that three-quarters of Americans would not eat genetically modified fish. An earlier 2010 poll by NPR found that 65 percent of respondents said they wouldn't try such fish. Following the FDA announcement, more than 60 grocery store chains have promised not to sell the fish.

Thank you, but until further notice I'll continue to choose wild-caught salmon. According to the FDA, none of these fish have been genetically altered, as of yet.

The FDA ruling also states that there's no reason for the fish to be labeled as different than any other salmon in the supermarket. They are merely recommending that manufacturers voluntarily label their products.

Many are calling for, at the very least, mandatory labeling. "The decision to approve GMO salmon without a mandatory disclosure is yet another example of how FDA's outdated policy keeps consumers in the dark" says Scott Faber, executive director of "Just Label It" in a recent statement.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Marco Carag

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