Best of Fish & Bicycles: Put.The.Test.Tube.Down…and step away slowly

Originally Published: July 13, 2010

Those mad genetic scientists continue to scare me.

A little over a month ago, I wrote about a transgenic spider goat, something out of a bad sci-fi movie, but all the more horrifying because it’s real.

And now there’s news that the FDA is considering approving the sale of a genetically modified salmon, and this one really hits home.

AquaBounty, which calls its super salmon an “advanced hybrid” rather than a transgenic fish, said they’re safe to eat and would be raised in contained farming operations that could be based inland rather than along coastal waters. And the modified fish, all females, would be sterile so they couldn’t breed with wild fish if any escaped, the company said.

AquaBounty’s fish grow faster but not bigger that normal Atlantic salmon. The company says that genetically modified salmon are identical to regular salmon in every way except for the genes that have been added.

Company researchers have added a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon as well as an on-switch gene from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon, to a normal Atlantic salmon’s roughly 40,000 genes. Salmon normally feed only during the spring and summer, but when the on-switch from the pout’s gene is triggered, they eat year round.

The result is a transgenic salmon that grows to market size in about half the time as a normal salmon – 16 to 18 months, rather than three years.

Salmon isn’t just a fish or a food, here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a way of life. Everyone knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, who is a fisherman, or used to be a fisherman, or who worked in a cannery, or sells salmon, fresh, frozen, or smoked, or who claims to have the greatest salmon recipe, or who’s a fish biologist working on salmon recovery, or who’s a Lummi or Nooksack, to whom the salmon is deeply rooted in their spirituality.

Because of the salmon culture here, we’re far ahead of most of the rest of the country in the effort to promote the purchase of wild rather than farmed fish, to the point where restaurateurs consider it a point of pride to specify that they serve wild-caught fish of all species.

I’d like to think that it’s the very success of the wild fish movement that is prompting this crazy genetic scheme on the part of insatiably greedy big business, but that’s little solace if this freak of a creature actually goes to market. The resulting flood of super cheap salmon available at every local grocery store will attract many well-meaning people to buy it, impact-be-damned, especially given the current economic climate.

What is scariest, however, is something not mentioned in the article, even by the Friends of the Earth guy. While there’s mention that these genetically altered salmon will supposedly be infertile, and therefore no risk of degrading wild species through crossbreeding if they escape the farms, they don’t mention the obvious fact that these fish are eating machines with no off-switch, that their primary threat wouldn’t be via crossbreeding, but, rather, from their ravaging the food stores that wild salmon depend on, food stores that, as the article does mention, wild salmon only eat from during the spring and summer.

How many BP oil spills will it take before we clampdown on business practices that endanger both our environment and the people who depend on that environment for their health and livelihoods?

5 thoughts on “Best of Fish & Bicycles: Put.The.Test.Tube.Down…and step away slowly

  1. me too…re “liking” cuz I don’t like the news. I don’t like the greedy business end of this, and I don’t like the huge potential for unintended consequences. Thanks so much for posting!

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