Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Genetically Modified Salmon... What the Big Deal?

Would you eat something with ethoxylated diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, azodicarbonamine or calcium propionate? You already do if you eat store bought sliced bread. Do you eat any of the approximately 75% of the food found in a grocery store that contains some sort of genetically engineered ingredients? I'm guessing for most of us the chances are high. So when a story comes along about a salmon that has been crossed with another salmon using laboratory techniques to enhances its growth properties, it amazes me how upset people get and start frothing at the mouth while throwing out the term GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) with the same relish as pouring Roundup on the evening meal.

Whether most of us like it or not, GMO's are already here and will be here to stay. It is a reality of increasing populations and less land available which drives the need for alternative ways to create more food with less land. Even our family gardens have long ago fallen under the realm of GMO's with the creation of hybrid vegetables. For hundreds of years, hybrids were genetically modified by selectively crossing plants with desirable traits generation after generation until the desired end result was obtained. Modern times we do the same thing but in a much shorter time frame with microscopes and a laboratory.

So should we be afraid of a genetically modified salmon which has been making the news lately? Not if you are planning on eating it. What we should be worried about and what I haven't seen in the news is what happens when these GMO salmon get out into our food stream unchecked and able to procreate? Granted these salmon would be raised only in specific inland specially designed ponds but mistakes and slip ups happen. What then? Perhaps they will thrive and live in harmony with the fish that they improved upon. Perhaps they become the next zebra mussel or kudzu plant. That should be our true concern.


Vince said...

As the Salmon is at the top of it's tree, predatorwise. It does not have the implications inherent with being much lower on the chain. At say krill, but then that's only when you think of the grown fish and not the egg sperm fry and so on. which could easily enter the chain way further down.
Anyhoos, my take on this hinges on the cost/benefit. In that if a new strain of Yam means that people that are now starving can live well, then so be it. I'm far less convinced with the notion of fat gouty mostly type2 diabetes riddled Europeans having another cheap source of protein. But that's just little ol'me.

Ed said...

Vince - I'm in agreement with you. What I tried to convey with this post but probably didn't do well is that people are quick to jump on bandwagons against something shouting catch phrases or acronyms if you will like GMO when they really don't know how many of them are already around us and consumed on a daily basis. If given the choice, I most certainly would go with the natural salmon just because I would suspect the taste is better due to slower growth as seems to be the case with most animals but I would not be scared that I would turn into some horribly unhealthy person if I had consumed the GMO salmon.

R. Sherman said...

Of course, what's silly is that virtually all human agriculture/animal husbandry is based upon continuous tinkering with breeding, which also constitutes "genetic modification." Green types tend to stoke fears because the population is scientifically ignorant.


Vince said...

Ed, you were very clear. But overall my point is in the 'why' have them at all.
They have increaced production of crops right enough, but at the cost of driving thousands upon thousands of acres out of production and their owners with them.
Imaging that in most of Europe 20ha (40 acres ish)is the unit of production for a family, they are not living like princes. But they are not short either.

In all fairness Randall, not really. What has gone before was in the species and sometimes almost never, in the Genera. What we have now is pulling bits from a Seaslug and putting it into a grain.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - Agreed.

Vince - Speaking from an Iowa farmer point of view, I think it is painfully obvious that we need genetically modified crops in order to feed the masses. Just the run on ethanol in the last decade has put incredible price pressure upwards on any sweetened food product in the store due to availability. Modern day corn, which only exists due to genetic modifications, has yields 20 times higher than it did in the days of my grandfather. Had we still been producing corn with yields my grandfather had, you would probably be paying $$$/ounce of corn sweetener or perhaps more likely, been using something else putting price strains elsewhere.

At least here in my area, there are no areas out of production. In fact, the government pays farmers to put acres out of production to prevent whole scale farming of every inch and provide wildlife habitat and filtration for our water supplies. Why? Because more people demand more of the product raising prices making even marginal land attractive to farmers.

Vince said...

True enough, in the case of the Iowa farmer. But that's in the family of the Yam farmer elsewhere, as per my first comment.
But GM bananas, you cannot argue that there's a need. And while some wasp could wipe out this years crop, you are not going to be climbing the walls demanding a banana. Ditto Strawberries or any other soft fruit, we might have a craving once in a while for a plump little Raspberry but we'll survive.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Well said. There are probably some genetic modifications that could cause harm, but nothing in comparison with simply moving crops or critters into new areas for some weird public purpose. I worry more about possums over-running Brooklyn or non native fish over- running the great lakes than about genetic modification whether it comes from cross breeding or genetic modification. (Most folks who provide native breeds advertise the fact. Wild Shrimp from the ocean near me taste a lot better than farm raised shrimp, but nothing bad will result from eating the farm raised critters.

sage said...

We're not worrying about zebra mussels over here anymore, they're here to stay, we're got bigger worries, like Asian Carp (but then we have salmon which are not native to the Great Lakes, oh well... I don't worry about genetically modified, but do worry about seeds that you can't harvest yourself, but have to buy year after year... that seems just a step away from disaster and makes you not only in hock to the bank, but also to the seed corporations.

TC said...

For some reason, when it's food that's supposed to come from something that was once living and breathing (so to speak), it's different.

I have no problem with bread.

"Fake" salmon is a bit different, no?

I'm not saying I'll have any choice in the matter, but perhaps it would be better if I just didn't know...