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Federal Advisory Committee Leans Toward Approval of Genetically Modified Salmon

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While it could take several months to reach tables, if the FDA approves AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon -- which grows to market weight about twice as fast as regular salmon -- the New York Times says similar GMO animals would have an easier time getting government approval, such as a pig developed in Canada that produces more environmentally friendly manure.

(NOTE: While well-written and a fine piece of journalism, perhaps the best thing about the Times article is that the editors assigned a fellow named Pollack to write about Salmon...)

The author:

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However, as we pointed out when the debate over the new salmon began heating up, people seem to be forgetting why the company did it in the first place: We’ve fished certain species to the brink of extinction.

AquaBounty’s fish carries a growth gene from a Chinook salmon and a genetic “on-switch” from the ocean pout, a salmon relative, to maintain production of that gene, even in cold weather -- when salmon normally don't produce it.

“You don’t get salmon the size of the Hindenburg,” Ronald Stotish, CEO of AquaBounty, told the New York Times. “You can get to those target weights in a shorter time.”

It's a process not dissimilar to what scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Munich say about a potato they developed last year that exclusively contains amylopectin starch -- useful in emulsifying soups and desserts.

"We are working here with natural principles. In nature, sunlight triggers changes in the genome. With chemistry, we accomplish the same thing -- only faster," said Jost Muth, one of the researchers on the project.

Elliot Entis, AquaBounty’s founder, said that crossing a salmon with a pout “is really no different from selectively breeding desirable traits into cows to make a tastier prime rib.”

However, the issue extends far beyond taste. Scientists at the ARS Catfish Genetics Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi, believe that genetic improvement of channel catfish is essential for long-term viability of the US catfish industry.

Salmon, in particular, have been overfished to the point that only 5% of the salmon we eat today is wild.

Aquaculture can reverse this. A report from the Cato Institute notes that, “Wild salmon stocks will likely be saved from extinction because farmed salmon is driving down the price and thus removing the incentive to catch the last wild stocks even as it makes salmon abundant for consumers and profitable for producers.”

Bill Manci, senior biologist and president of Fisheries Technology Associates, Inc., says the oceans have reached their capacity to supply the world with seafood, as demand continues to rise, and that, by necessity, aquaculture is destined to be the vehicle from which consumers source and buy seafood.

“Despite the growth of US aquaculture, the US trade deficit in fisheries products is now more than $9 billion per year and growing,” he writes. “The US captures and produces less than one-third of the $10 billion worth of fisheries products it consumes each year.”

In an interview, Manci told Minyanville:
There’s this farmed salmon backlash that says people should be eating wild salmon. At the same time, they’re concerned about maintaining wild salmon stocks and the integrity of those stocks, and whether or not they’re overfished. Just like we developed agriculture 10,000 years ago when we stopped gathering berries and nuts, and stopped hunting deer and elk for sustenance, aquaculture is a logical extension of that. The oceans have been so plentiful up to this point, we haven’t had to raise fish on farms. Now that aquaculture is an absolute necessity, there is somehow this fear that the things we do to try to improve productivity, improve supply, and bring down prices, is somehow wrong. The alternative is to shut down aquaculture altogether and strip lakes and oceans bare. Not only do you have a rise in absolute demand because of an increase in population, you have a rise in per capita consumption. As people’s standards of living increase, they move up the ladder in terms of protein quality with fish being on top of that ladder. Let’s specifically talk about salmon. We can isolate them and not worry about contamination from petroleum, PCBs, heavy metals. Wild fish are exposed to anything and everything that might be out there in the environment. I would much rather consume, say, shrimp that have been grown and produced on a farm than wild shrimp.
Others make a similar case.

This past May, an article in the Atlantic by James McWilliams, an Associate Professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos, posed the question:

Is free-range meat making us sick?

McWilliams cited Dutch studies that explored rates of Trichinella and Toxoplasma in pigs raised in the Netherlands, in which evidence "indicates that the prevalence of parasitic infections is higher in outdoor farming systems than in indoor farming systems," and a Swiss study of free-range pigs and Trichinella that identified "free-ranging pigs" as "the group with the highest risk of exposure."

He also cites a 2009 report from The Humane Society of the United States which stated that "outdoor flocks may be exposed to wild birds, insects, and other potential infectious agents, and may come into contact with bacteria and intestinal parasites," and that "caged hens are generally protected from the intestinal parasite Coccidia by separation from their fecal material."

Those who make the claim that vegetarianism is the answer may be taking an overly simplistic stance. Remember the jalapeno peppers responsible for the nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2008?

While some call genetically modified organisms “Frankenfood," others call it progress -- and vice-versa.
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