The FDA's decision to allow AquaBounty to sell about 20 years after the initial application, it’s genetically engineered AquaAdvantage Salmon is reigniting the fervor over all GE foods.
Originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Although Prince Charles is normally credited with coining the term “Frankenfish” in a speech given in December 1998 about his concerns about Genetically Modified foods, it was actually English Professor Paul Lewis of Boston University in a short powerful support letter to a New York Times Op-Ed piece “Tomatoes May Be Dangerous to Your Health” who first used the term to the USDA’s decision to permit genetically modified foods to be sold on June 2, 1992.
His reference to Mary Shelly’s Baron Victor von Frankenstein forever changed the discourse on the way our foods and now animals are produced. After that letter was published, the Franken- prefix has been used by many to rile up and bring emotion to the debate.
Words that have been chosen carefully to have impact on delivery is expected from an English Professor like Lewis; and the fight for and against the labeling of GE foods has been all about using, or not, the proper words and terminology – in the very complicated scientific process that is called Genetic Engineering.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow AquaBounty to sell about 20 years after the initial application, it’s genetically engineered AquaAdvantage Salmon is reigniting the fervor over all GE foods. For the first time, this biotechnology is being used on an animal.
The benefit of the GE salmon, according to an interview I had with AquaBounty in February 2013, is that it uses 25% less feed, grows to full weight in 18 months rather than in three years, and is more sustainable for the environment. The stresses on the world’s fisheries have spawned interest in both GE aquaculture and sustainability efforts: a 2010 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations notes 53% of international fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.
The critics who have fought the approval have stated two major reasons: that the AquaAdvantage GE Salmon could escape from its land based aquaculture farms into the ocean and breed with other fish (highly unlikely) and that it needs to be labeled (which is an open issue as the FDA will open the labeling discussion to public comments on Monday November 23, 2015.
There is one major stumbling block that might well prevent this AquaAdvantage Salmon from becoming a success. It is not about the science, or the fear, or the labeling – it is about the consumer benefit.
As with most GE foods, the benefits are for the producers - easier to grow, better yields resulting in better profits, etc. It is true that their discussions include creating enough food to feed the all the people on the planet; and while that is altruistic (and builds their business at the same time) until GE foods and these companies offer a tangible benefit to a consumer - this discussion and battle will continue to heat up.