A sick juxtaposition

Story A on Yahoo! News:

FDA to consider approval of modified salmon
"This is perhaps the most studied fish in history," he said. "Environmentally this is a very sustainable technology."

Stotish says the fish would be bred in better conditions than many of the world's farmed salmon, and could be located closer to population centers to help feed more people. The company has also said the increase in engineered salmon production could help relieve endangered wild salmon populations.


"It is outrageous to keep this vital information secret," said Wenonah Hauter, director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. "Consumers have a right to know what FDA is trying to allow into our food supply."

Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, says the agency is relying on too little data, much of which is supplied by the company itself.

European nations have been much more cautious in embracing engineered foods. Ruediger Rosenthal, a spokesman for Bund-Friends of the Earth Germany, said it is unlikely the modified fish would make it across the Atlantic for sale as many Europeans are very skeptical of genetically modified foods.

Story B on Yahoo! News:

Kids without food in Pakistan floods face death
More than 100,000 children left homeless by Pakistan's floods are in danger of dying because they simply do not have enough to eat, according to UNICEF. Children already weak from living on too little food in poor rural areas before the floods are fighting to stay alive, as diarrhea, respiratory diseases and malaria attack their emaciated bodies.

Im not saying that GMO fish would have saved these Pakistani kids.

Im saying this was a sick juxtaposition, on so many levels.


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Yes, but Abbie, how do you know that those genetically modified fish won't give children autism?

More serious thoughts from a non-biologist:

1) It isn't crazy to worry that a species that escapes into the wild might overwhelm native species, as such things actually do happen. However, my understanding is that things that are bred in the lab are engineered and selected for very specific trait that are desirable on the farm. Even after the introduction of a gene from another organism, there was plenty of breeding and selection for survival in farm conditions, and I assume that in this process there was lot of random mutation. Wouldn't the most likely outcome of releasing them into the wild be that they are poorly-adapted and die off?

2) Are there known mutations that impede their ability to catch prey in the wild? Could such a mutation be introduced into a modified salmon species, alongside the mutation that makes them bigger, tastier, faster-growing, or whatever, so that they do fine when fed in captivity but can't catch prey in the wild?

I'm not asking the second question because I want anybody to stall progress until such a feat is accomplished (for all I know such a thing is fiendishly difficult), but I'm just curious.

"It is outrageous to keep this vital information secret," said Wenonah Hauter

Pro-Tip: If a reporter is asking for comment on something, thats a good sign its not secret.

They just moved the genetic around-the-clock growth hormone feature from a Chinook Salmon to a variety of seasonal growth salmon.

The Chinook get bigger faster and can be harvested sooner. Because they are the biggest variety they can take a few stings. (The entire Irish salmon farming industry was wiped out in 2007 by mauve stinger jellyfish)

So much for frankenfish, more like fishnfish.

People need to relax. It isn't as if they spliced a salmon with Liza Minnelli or a Rhinoceros (I would pay to see those varieties fight BTW and put my money on Salmonelli).

By Prometheus (not verified) on 20 Sep 2010 #permalink

I want delicious GMO salmon.

Alex has a good point. I just heard a discussion about this on NPR. The pro-GMO person said that these GMO fish will see things fall on the surface and will go to it as that is how they have been fed. However, he said a wild Salmon would go away from the surface if it saw something there, as it would consider something on the surface to be dangerous.

Of course I have no idea of the validity of these statements but it's an interesting argument.

By Texas Reader (not verified) on 20 Sep 2010 #permalink

Thank you for focusing on this rarely-pointed-out conflict of values. Without saying anything pro or con GM foods, to take a position against GM food is to take a position against one of the best currently available technologies to eliminate hunger. Measure current human suffering that not using GM's is causing against whatever risks are claimed.

I remember reading that even the conventionally farmed salmon have had adverse effects on wild stocks. The problem with conventionally farmed salmon is that they are raised from only a few egg donors, and the number of eggs a salmon can produce depends on how big the eggs are. For eggs to survive and the fry to get to sea, it helps if they are bigger. But salmon with bigger eggs don't produce as many, so they are under represented in the farmed fish population. When farmed salmon escape and breed with wild salmon, it dilutes the large egg wild stocks with small egg inbred farmed stocks.

If they are Atlantic salmon, just grow them on the West Coast. Atlantics have never been able to establish in the Pacific, GMO or not...

Fisheries Research Volume 62, Issue 3, 2003, Pages 237-254

"After the beginning of the 20th century, at least 34 different states attempted to introduce Atlantic salmon for sport fishing. The first transfer of Atlantic salmon to the Pacific Northwest occurred in 1904, and serious attempts to introduce the species continued for the next 40 years (Coleman, P., Rasch, T., 1981. A detailed listing of the liberations of salmon into the open waters of the State of Washington during 1980. Progress Report 132. Washington Department of Fisheries, Olympia, WA.Coleman and Rasch, 1981), all without success. The same difficulties were being experienced in western Canada. Between 1905 and 1934 the Provincial Government of British Columbia released 7.5 million juvenile Atlantic salmon into local waters, primarily on the east coast of Vancouver island and the lower Fraser river (MacCrimmon and Gots, 1979). These releases also failed to establish breeding populations in the Province, although some spawning may have occurred in the Cowichan river as specimens thought to have resulted from the planting of Atlantic salmon were taken until May 1926, according to Dymond (1932)."

By The other Jim (not verified) on 20 Sep 2010 #permalink

Alex: it's possible to create genetic cripples in the lab - species that lack to the gene to eg synthesise a vital amino acid, and therefore have to be kept in very specific conditions that supply them with the missing vital factor. More difficult to do in a salmon than in bacteria or drosophila, I imagine, but potentially possible.

Hmm. I saw the sick juxtaposition as someone working on producing a luxury food (in the West, currently at least) with all the inefficient use of foodstuffs inherent in raising animals for human consumption, next to kids starving for lack of calories and basic medical treatment.

Minimising the impact of the globally-wealthy is a valid goal, but we need reduction of consumption as well as more efficient production.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 21 Sep 2010 #permalink

Don't you know that eating GMO foods will cause us to get genetically engineered ourselves!? It is all an evil conspiracy!!! Then again I guess people believe sillier things =P

"Say fo rinstance, we are referring to the 'terminator' gene most GMO is spliced with. So the animal eats it, then it changes that animals DNA, then it is ingested by a human which also changes the human's DNA. This is a very scary scientific experiment being played out on unknowing parties.

By Poodle Stomper (not verified) on 21 Sep 2010 #permalink

The world's oceans are just about fished out, and several of the most common fish species are threatened.

Farmed Salmon eat 2 1/2 to 3 kg of fish for each kg of salmon produced. How excactly will farmed salmon, GM or otherwise, help feed the world?

The point of this particular GM was to enable the salmon to grow throughout the year. This should reduce the time to market by half and therefore reduce the amount of food required by the farmed salmon by roughly half.

Thats still a net loss of fish (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 kg to produce one kg) but (a) its a reduction of the impact of rich bastards on world fisheries, and (b) if it works with atlantic salmon, perhaps they can do something similar to a less piscavourus member of salmonidae such as rainbow trout, and get the ratio under 1-1. Or maybe branch out of salmonidae and use the same pout genes to allow Tilapia to grow in colder cliamates. But none of that is going to happen if everyone goes "GM! OMG! Its the end of the world as we know it! The FDA is keeping secret from us what has been public knowledge since 2007!"

Doncha jest hate it when fat white guys sit around in their ritzy restaurants gorging on genetically perverted salmon while poor little children stare in the windows, starving to death, surrounded by wolves, in the snow!


What a load.

The whole point of yield maximization in aquaculture is the same as it is in agribusiness to wit: the reduction of transportation(fuel) and human labor costs.

It doesn't matter if it is fish farming or wheat. I can provide for the base caloric needs of the City of Peoria at a rate of around $2.00 per person per year. From the field to ADM milling to Shulze & Burch to Peoria. I can't do that in Katsina, Nigeria for less than $600.00 per person.

Think about that. If we get a GMO to max out caloric yield and provide crop threat resistance, that can then moved to formerly dicey places where hunger is happening and it can be stopped.

I don't care where or how that tech is developed or for whom. Tech is tech and the shit extrapolates.

Cow peas, corn, potatoes, fish, you name it. The Franken fish objections are the same atavistic crapola the Pakistanis were flogging over iodized salt while they cranked out thousands of brain damaged kids. But but....evil, cursed western science magic will make our winkys soft.

So fight the GMO, wave a sign, shout some tired marxian slogans,wring your hands over genetic drift and maybe that cute chick at the coffee shop you have been stalking will give you a tug job but even if she dosen't you can still self congratulate.

The rest of us are moving on.

Huzzah chinook salmon growth hormone.

Dill Sauce for plank grilled genetically modified frankenfishies (kind of like tzatziki but dilly and savory)

1 lg. cucumber, seeded, grated and well drained
3/4 c. sour cream
1/8 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chives, chopped
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dill

By Prometheus (not verified) on 22 Sep 2010 #permalink

Fresh dill or dried? Sounds good.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 24 Sep 2010 #permalink