Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
Frankenfish: The salmon of doubt
Consumers every day are being bombarded with choices they don't really need and this makes ethical consumerism really hard. It also leads to obvious questions like : why don't governments make it easier to obtain truly organic, sustainable food? Why can't it support community-based agriculture initiatives? Why does it have to spend millions of dollars on subsidies that ultimately affect the health of the nation? Why does it have to spend millions on technology that is environmentally harmful? All these are questions with complicated answers.
One of the prime examples of the ethical food conundrum we face is the issue of genetically modified food. It is one of the mainstays of American agriculture. It is still being resisted in UK, Europe, India and various other parts of the world - it is a multi-billion dollar industry and highly controversial. Releasing genetically modified organisms in the wild makes it very hard to contain them and there is no way of predicting the impact they have on the wider environment. They have been linked to cancer, decline in honey bee population, increase in food allergies and a host of other things
In the face of all this, it seems unethical to even consider producing GM salmon. The FDA claims that it "is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon," and that, "there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal." Aqua Bounty Technology, the company that is responsible for genetically engineered Atlantic salmon calls it a 'blue revolution'.
The GM salmon have growth hormones from Pacific Chinook salmon and from ocean pout injected into the fertilized eggs of farmed Atlantic salmon. The combined DNA creates a fish that grows to market size in 12-18 months versus the 30 months it takes for natural fish. The pout genes also allow the salmon to be farmed in colder waters and therefore extend the growing season. These engineered fish would be bred in Canada with their eggs being shipped to Panama to be reared.
The FDA approval is currently being stalled. One of the primary concerns raised by the Soil Association which said even if bred to be infertile, the risks of one fish escaping into the wild would have 'irreversible consequences' and that they could also enter the food chain if eaten by other wildlife and harm other fish. The Salmon and Trout Association in the UK said the FDA had warned that up to 5% of the eggs may be fertile which they said would 'threaten wild salmonoid stocks with interbreeding and competition.' Apart from the threat to biodiversity, the salmon are also said to contain elevated levels of growth hormone which has previously been linked to several cancers.
The environmental impacts of shipping between Canada-Panama-US will definitely generate a massive carbon footprint. The only viable market for the salmon if approved would be the US; the definite environmental and health risks does not make this endeavor worth it. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of health risks of GM food and are demanding mandatory labeling from food companies. The 'GM-free' label is the fasted growing product on the US food market and even companies like Wal-Mart have rejected Monsanto's GM milk.
With all this in mind, frankenfish could well be a business failure in which case not many people will be mourning. If the FDA does approve GM salmon, it will open the flood-gates for modification of every kind of animal there is. Whatever happened to promoting sustainable fisheries??