By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Environment
The U.S. FDA is nearing approval of genetically modified salmon for consumption. The landmark decision has a big impact on the world's food supply and the ethics of tinkering with nature.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is one step closer to approving genetically modified, or GM, salmon that grows twice as fast as conventional farmed fish.
It would be the first genetically modified animal ruled safe to eat in the U.S.
The rub: The FDA has already published an analysis on its website concluding that GM salmon is both safe to eat and of minimal risk to the environment.
At the center of the debate: AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon, which contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a DNA fragment from the ocean pout that helps activate the gene. The gene has the handy side effect of speeding up development in the first year, slashing time-to-full-growth in half.
(SmartPlanet's own Boonsri Dickinson first wrote about the salmon earlier this month.)
Supporters say the fish can help America build its own domestic salmon market. (1.5 million tons of Atlantic salmon are produced globally each year, cites the Journal; the U.S. consumes about 450,000 tons, nearly all imported.)
Detractors say the sample size for the FDA study was too small -- 30 fish -- to be safe.
The core of the debate is whether humans ought to be tinkering with Mother Nature at the genetic level. On one hand, genetically altering food can help humans artificially "breed" species for traits they want; on the other hand, it can cause potentially dangerous side effects.
Moreover, there's the patent question: who owns what's on your dinner plate?
GM crops such as corn or soybeans are already prevalent in America. (St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto has been the most visible player in the space.) But the salmon marks the first time GM has made its way past flora to fauna.
AquaBounty has been producing genetically altered salmon since 1989. The fish are all female and sterile, and the company wants its fish only used for inland fisheries so they won't escape into the sea.
But things happen. The big question: can we deal with GM salmon escaping into and reproducing in the wild? Do we risk breaking established food chains? If the salmon take over, will Mother Nature naturally tip the scales against them and correct for an imbalance? And will it be fast enough not to adversely impact our own food sources, the very problem we're trying to solve?
Sep 20, 2010
By virtue that we are modifying a fish, it looks like we are playing with fire. And one that if out of control, the effects we do not have the capacity to understand, predict, let alone prevent. We need to know much more about this to be sure it is OK, and perform it in a way it is OK. We need to, yes, prove it to be safe for us and the environment beyond a reasonable doubt. Jim, Newport Beach, CA
Sounds like most of you are stuck on the word "Inconclusive". Dictionary says: leading to no conclusion or definite result MEANING: it cannot be proved safe and cannot be proved harmful. Which is not entirely true... Because... If it cannot be proven to be harmful, it has been proven to be safe. No testing is done to prove safety. ALL testing is done to prove (or find) some harmful effect.
The irony of this is that mankind has been "genetically altering" their food sources since the dawn of agriculture. We've just been doing it using "standard Mendelian genetics". Mind you, I'm no genetic expert but based on the description of "contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a DNA fragment from the ocean pout that helps activate the gene" this isn't like a bio-engineered crop that produces some drug or the like such that a consumer would have to worry about the side-effects of this hormone. People have been eating Chinook salmon for centuries and I haven't heard of anyone suffering birth defects (unless the fish was high in mercury but that's a completely separate issue) from doing so. I just wish people would concentrate less on the wording "inconclusive" and trying to read some dire and sinister meaning into this. It simply means that the data could not be used to conclude either for OR against the approval of this foodstuff. We all want to be 100% safe but there IS NO SUCH THING as 100% safe. Even if you eat ONLY "organic" and "natural" products there's no guarantee that they will be "safe". One can drown in 100% pure water or choke on a piece of an organic apple. All we CAN do, as intelligent, thinking individuals, is balance the prospective costs (negatives) against the prospective benefits (positives) and make a decision that harms the fewest while allowing for the most to enjoy the benefits. In the absence of compelling or overwhelming data indicating a high risk/cost to approval, I think they made the correct choice to allow adoption of this foodsource that has the potential to greatly increase our available protein sources with minimal impact to the environment or safety.
I don't care if they want to sell GM fish but I want to know if what I am eating is from God or man. the FDA's decision to forbid the labeling of non GMO foods is the real trouble!!
Inconclusive means just what it sounds like -- they can't tell. What this seems to mean, is that the FDA's science is not able to adequately test the effects. When science can produce things that can't be tested for safety, I think the proper response, of an agency charged with testing for the public good, is to say sorry, but no, we can't let it into the market. The only other tack is the "faith" approach, taken here by poster number 2, who thinks that since you cannot prove it to be safe, you must bail out of your duties as watchdog. But note that watchdogs don't bark because only when they KNOW the person approaching is a burglar; they bark at anything they can't identify, ASSUMING it means harm. That is the proper function of a watchdog, and that is the proper watchdog function of the FDA. And note that an "inconclusive" decision does NOT mean they are determining it to be safe. Inconclusive literally means "I don't know." Hell of a reason for "approval." We need some new administrators in that agency.
Note that the FDA's "decision" (not to decide) doesn't just affect those of us who might eat this fish, but also the natural environment that will be changes if (WHEN) some of these fish find their way into the wild. And don't say that won't happen, history says that it WILL.
I realize that one cannot prove a negative, but how is that an argument for not even trying to do scientific studies on the long term effects? Who are we kidding? A year long study is not an unreasonable request. None of the Americans that will starve in that year will do so because of the lack of GM salmon. The problem with this GM salmon is the same as any other GM product. Consumers have no choice not to consume it since it isn't labeled and is hidden among real foods. How many Americans know that squash are genetically modified or that all domestic cheese is made with genetically modified enzymes or Hawaiian papaya is GM? If I didn't have to live with the consequences caused by the money hungry "throw-caution-to-the-wind" pseudo scientists that have a vested interest in pushing this crap through, I wouldn't mind so much. The problem is that once the GM salmon escapes and eats all the food that natural salmon need to live, saying "OOPS" won't fix it. If these monsters escape into the wild (it happens with farmed fish all the time) and wreak havoc with the food chain in the oceans of the world, it'll be too late to do studies. If ingestion of this GM product by pregnant women causes babies to be born with birth defects, saying "We didn't know" isn't good enough.
for the doubters, there will never be ananswer they can accept. for the starving, there c an never be a study worth waiting for. the worls is full of risks; we face these every day. because one cannot prove a negative, maybe we are being just a tad picky.
As so many times before, the FDA is sleeping with food suppliers. We've seen it with the meat industries (beef, pork, chicken), with the various pharmaceutical companies (drugs approved without proper and thorough research) , with GM wheat and soybean companies such as Monsanto, and now with fish. Any regulatory agency that cannot make a positive determination as to food safety but approves it anyway, should be abolished as superfluous. The FDA seems to fit that description very, very well. It's a pity that they're appointed, and not elected ...
Inconclusive means they don't know. Inconclusive means they have no idea what the long term effects might be. It might be the greatest idea since sliced bread and it might be a disaster. My opinion would be that there needs to be a long term testing in a larger scale, well contained and also observe testing of feeding it to animals or humans so you can actually see what happens.
Inconclusive means there is no evidence it is not safe. Which is as good as you can get, since you cannot prove something is absolutely safe. What they are saying by that designation is there is absolutely no evidence that there is anything at all dangerous about this, but since the eco-freaks will make up spurious claims if we call it safe, we'll just call it inconclusive.
Since when does being inconclusive mean safe? What happened to erring on the conservative side of things.