The Fishy Business of Rejecting Sustainable GM Salmon Science

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="15180628"][printfriendly]The announcement on November 19th, 2015 of regulatory approval for genetically modified (GM) salmon highlights the communication gap about, and acceptance of, science.

In case you were not aware, the US approved the commercial production and sale of AquaBounty Technologies, GM Atlantic salmon. Within hours of the US Food and Drug Agency’s approval decision, those opposed to biotech took to the media commenting on how this was a ‘horrible’ decision. Since then dozens of retail grocery chains have pledged to not sell the GM salmon, thereby denying consumers any choice. Yet the benefits of AquaBounty salmon cannot be ignored, they grow to maturity in half the time as other salmon, requiring 25% less feed than a conventional Atlantic salmon. Currently, conventionally farmed fisheries requires forage fish, smaller fish used as feed for the large fish. GM salmon reduce the dependence on forage-fishing which is nearly 1/3 of the world’s marine catches.

GM Salmon + AquaBounty

Source: AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. 2015

In addition to their genetic benefits, the salmon pose no risk of competing with wild or conventionally farmed fish. AquaBounty doesn’t farm these salmon in the ocean but on land in tanks, meaning there aren’t concerns about fish escapes. If this were to accidently happen the fish are sterile and pose no crossbreeding risk.

As our society demands more from the agriculture and food industries, increased sustainability is also important. So, how is it that when a product comes to the market that is more sustainable as it requires less feed, that suddenly there are calls from environmental groups to ban the technology? How will sustainability be accomplished if innovations are constantly banned? Where do critics think sustainability innovations are going to come from? Science can, and does, contribute to improving sustainability. However, if every technological innovation is automatically going to be rejected, then sustainability will be an unattainable goal for societies.

GM Salmon + AquaBounty

Source: AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. 2015

Sustainability is more than solar panels, wind power generation, and organic crops. With an increasing population, food production needs to increase by 70% over the next three decades, these salmon could be a means of helping. The reality is this doesn’t resonate with those of us who are food secure. For those of us who can make food secure food decisions, this salmon provides an efficient and sustainable Atlantic salmon which we can maintain in our diet when the future of wild species is unknown.

Using genomic tools to improve food production, both livestock and crops, will be part of the innovations required to achieve our sustainable goals. Statements by environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth, claiming that “People don't want to eat it…” aren’t true, they’re only speaking for those who don’t need or want it. They cannot speak for the nearly 800 million malnourished, or those who see the benefits of these salmon. We know salmon is an extremely nutritious food source and the malnourished could greatly benefit from this food source. I would be willing to wager that if an environmentalist hadn’t eaten anything in two or three days, as is frequently the case with the most severely malnourished, their perspective on GM salmon might be quite different.

I think before we reject this product we should see how it could benefit society. Currently, these fish pose no threat to the environment or food chain. They’ve been strictly regulated and tested, and instead of opposing this technology and pushing to revoke this product consumers can decide to not buy it. If the market doesn’t want GM salmon, it will fail on its own. Why not let consumers decide rather than environmental organizations. GM salmon may play a role in improving food security and fish population, however, the threat of banning this technology is real and any benefits may never be realized, which would be a tragedy.

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1 Comment

Bill Boland· December 8, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Excellent and well-informed article. Too bad that the well-fed portion of humanity is driven by ideologies that closely resemble the colonial era where the West dictated policy to the developing world.

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