RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Do You Care How Your Salmon Was Engineered?

It’s finally over. In April, the public comment period ended for FDA approval of the world’s first genetically altered food animal. These critters — salmon — grow to three times the size of normal salmon in the same amount of time, using three times the resources and causing three times the pollution. At 18 months, this frankenfish measured 24 inches instead of the normal 13 inches and weighed 6.6 pounds instead of 2.8 pounds.

And if they are approved, dear consumers, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make our choices, regarding genetically modified organisms, clear.

Salmon is a relatively new treat, at least in the US Midwest, South, Mountain and Prairie states, and it has been getting a lot of hype. Salmon’s been touted as a super food, laden with omega 3s and beneficial oils. The ads and recipes make it seem like, well, if you haven’t been cooking with salmon you just haven’t been cooking.

All these well-placed pieces, in the media for the last 3 years, are preparing a gullible public so we’ll hardly notice that the salmon in the stores isn’t normal. In fact, it’s been genetically altered with genes to make it a giant.

There are two major problems here: one is that if the weird salmon get into the watery ecosystem, as other GMO crops like corn, soybeans, canola and others have done, the ecosystem will not be able to provide for the fast growers, and for the normal salmon. The normal ones, growing at a normal rate instead of in overdrive, will be squeezed out.

Aquabounty Technology, the Boston-based parents of these finned children, says that they’ll always be raised in landlocked ponds, safe from predators, eco-terrorists, or even bad weather that might break the dams that hold them and loose them into the world. So far, no GMO crop has been contained. They all, without exception, have gotten into the larger ecosystem. And Aquabounty’s business plan includes selling the fish eggs to producers in other nations around the world, increasing the potential for catastrophe.

Another problem is that, like other GMO crops, this hasn’t been thoroughly tested on eaters for safety on consumers. We could be eating this salmon, squeezing the oil onto the dog’s food and feeding it to Fluffy the cat, with utterly no idea whether it’s good for us, Fido, or Fluffy.

But wait! There’s more! This GMO OMG fish has the potential to spread its weird genes to other fish. One group of scientists crossed the frankensalmon with trout and got offspring that grew faster than its parents. It outcompeted everything.

Let’s be honest, though. We don’t need to eat salmon, wild or weird. So here’s the opportunity part: We can vote with our dollars to not buy this stuff. We can refuse to buy it. We can call the grocery stores, refuse to buy it in the restaurants, and tell our kids’ schools not to serve it in the lunchroom. Tell the hospitals, colleges and the cafeteria in your office building. This is one of the rare occasions when we can focus on one product—one non-essential product—and make our voices heard.

We didn’t have this chance when GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar crept on stealthy feet into our kitchens. All these ingredients were hidden amongst thousands of others. No one can tell whether corn chips, soda pop, muffins, yogurts, t-shirts, socks, gasoline, dog food or anything else, has GMO ingredients that might be a health and environmental hazard. With the salmon, however, we have an opening. We can act.

And the consumer voices are being noted, for the first time in the short history of frankenfoods. Whole Foods has said they won’t sell the GMO salmon, and so has Target, Giant Eagle, H-E-B and Meijer. Altogether, according to Friends of the Earth, there are 59 retailers and 4,662 stores (and still counting!) that will not sell genetically engineered salmon, or any GE seafood. This is a rare tribute to consumers and groups that have spoken out. And we can all do our part by mentioning it at the grocery stores and restaurants of our choice.

As always, the consumer that doesn’t mind being a family food police, can buy locally and choose a local product. Here in mid-Missouri, that would be catfish, crappie, trout or some other fish from the creek or pond. For the bi-coastal, of course, there are more choices.

But before we get too excited and triumphant, we need to be clear that even if the FDA rejects the salmon, it doesn’t mean the end of production worldwide. With Aquabounty’s investment on the line, they will no doubt sell their technology to other countries. US consumers could be the unwitting recipients of GMO salmon raised in, say, China or South America. Without regulatory structures in place — like country-of-origin-labeling — salmon lovers will have no way of knowing where their fish was raised or what its pedigree.

So, sorry. It’s not finally over. Once again, we’ve just begun.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2013

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2013 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652