Thursday,26 July,2012 07:54:12
It’s a never-ending tale: How yellow journalism and special interest groups are influencing legitimate regulatory processes.
The discussion about genetically modified foods is ongoing and likely to continue for many years to come. Many special interest groups claiming to have the public’s best interest in mind are vehemently opposed to the concept, despite billions of people having eaten genetically modified soybeans, corn and other plants for decades. Hundreds of peer reviewed papers and government reviews show no evidence of harm. Clearly GMO has a niche in our diets. Ultimately, the single most important issue is (and should be) safety. GMO animals are as important to long-term sustainability of the human race as the plants are.
There is a lone warrior in this field who has been fighting innumerable roadblocks in their effort to sell a genetically modified Atlantic salmon. Their salmon grows faster, sufficiently faster to dramatically impact how salmon are farmed, although their current business model precludes this because of “safety” concerns. AquaBounty has complied with everything that has been required of them by law and more. Their changes are geared toward faster growth only.
Progress in many areas of science is not always greeted with open arms. Inserting genetic material into an animal’s genome with stable gene expression is technically no longer difficult. The EU has recently approved treatment of a human genetic disease using this technology and the potential to benefit humanity through genetic manipulation is massive. The FDA regulates using the precautionary principle as a guiding policy. Safety risks from products require that those companies that wish to sell these products address these risks. This is supposed to be based on risks that are science based, not on personal opinion, politics or fact-distorting journalism. If the risks are determined to be insignificant or have been addressed then there is no reason to withhold regulatory approval.
I recently read an article in a popular outdoor enthusiast magazine that continues to perpetuate the distortion of facts that surround this issue. Irrelevant issues are used to support claims that the world will be somehow be threatened by the use of this GMO salmon. Advocates are using the specious argument that since the technology for risk assessment is changing, these ever changing standards must be the ones that are applied. With this logic, nothing would ever be approved. Tie this in with election year politics and a few blatant examples of elected officials playing political games to delay a decision long overdue and you have all the elements of usurpation of what some already consider to be a conservative process. The FDA has already stated that these fish are safe to eat. What is the problem?
Aquaculture by its nature carries risks. AquaBounty has gone to extremes to address every scientifically reasonable concern and beyond. Panama is a tropical country and it rains a lot. One of the flooding events that the author of the article alluded to took out a portion of the water inlet system. The fish were never in danger of escape. The fish in the facility died (the author chose to use the euphemism lost rather than died which makes it sound like the fish escaped). In fact short of being hand carried to the ocean (hundreds of kilometers away) the risk of these fish escaping is as close to zero as one can realistically get. Panama is not a friendly place for coldwater fish and there is a very good reason why there are no native stocks of salmon in the waters of Panama.
GMO is here to stay. Get use to it. We should encourage wise regulation and oversight. This should be based on scientific assessments of risk. Regardless of objections it is inevitable that GMO animals will find their way into the market. There are far too many advantages for them not to. Feeding a burgeoning world population would not even be possible today if it were not for the use of GMO plants. GMO animals are a necessary progression to ensure that we can feed the mouths to come. Will this be another area where the US loses its dominance? Considering the potential this makes little sense.
The article also alleges that GMO shrimp are already being farmed and sold. The technology exists to incorporate genes into shrimp, fish or virtually any animal you can think of and human beings. However, the family based large-scale genetic programs in Southeast Asia have been able to achieve many things that a genetically modified shrimp is unlikely to be easily able to best. Similar things have occurred with GMO plants where conventional technologies produced plants that limited the market to the point where there was insufficient market for a GMO plant. While there are objections to GMO, with few, if any, exceptions, none appear to be based on substance, purely factual information and real risk. Given the current state of the shrimp farming industry, if this were the case it is a dismal failure.
Combine this unsubstantiated and ridiculous claim with the misunderstanding of the impact of flooding on the integrity of the operation and from my perspective this looks like this is just another poorly researched agenda driven article. This results in articles that misinform. They attempt to manipulate the opinions of those who believe that they are being given the facts and further legitimizes what are already inflexible; non-science based dogmatic misrepresentations of fact.
The truth is that we can relax about this whole matter. All of the evidence shows that these fish are as safe to eat as any other fish you buy in the marketplace (and likely safer than some). It will not be cultured in a traditional cage in the ocean system anytime soon. Opposition to this fish has reached an irrational fervor to find something wrong and keeping what some perceive to be Pandora’s box closed.
AquaBounty is being given the short stick in all of this. Given all the work that has been done, the strictures on how they will operate and the extensive tests that they have conducted there is simply no basis to believe that there will be a problem to anyone (aside from those with allergies to fish) from eating these fish. They have heavily invested in a technology for many years and just as they are at the goal line, a force field pops up determined to deny them the right to allow the market to decide about their fish. They have earned that right and those in charge know it. The FDA needs to show some integrity and take the step forward and let them sell their fish, now. If the fish is safe and there is no reason to believe otherwise why are they being denied the fruit of their effort?