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Obama Jokes About Salmon, but is GMO Salmon a Joke on Us?

Leon Kaye | Thursday January 27th, 2011 | 4 Comments
SOTU photo courtesy of Fast Company

SOTU photo courtesy of Fast Company

The State of the Union, or in Twitter-speak, #SOTU, is one duty that that the President of the USA must undertake annually.  Actually, according to Article 3 of the Constitution, it does not have to be a speech, but since Woodrow Wilson the President has made it an event on Capitol Hill.  Many of us probably wish the President would instead just send Congress an email and then “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”  If you decided to work out or caught up on the DVR, you missed a light moment when President Obama dished out a joke about the various agencies that oversee salmon:  one department has jurisdiction when it is in fresh water, another when it is in saltwater, and “it gets even more complicated when it’s smoked.”

Chuckles aside, the truth is that when it comes to genetically modified salmon (or GE salmon), things do get complicated, and no, we are not smoking.

One biotech company, AquaBounty, hopes to become part of the “blue revolution,” and bring together aquaculture and science to create scalable production of seafood.  The Massachusetts-based company promotes several benefits if its salmon, tilapia, and trout get to market:  they grow twice the size as “traditional” fish, can be grown inland without ocean pens, cannot reproduce (but what about that fish bait sushi?), and are “indistinguishable” from other fish.

For now, the fish is undergoing the approval process, which for now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees.  The word out on the street (or ocean pen) is that this GE salmon could be approved for human consumption any day now.  Other agencies have not been pleased:  the Department of the Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service has expressed the impact this GE fish could have if it ever escapes into the wild, even if the AquaBounty’s fish is nonproductively sterile.  The FDA is also required to file an environmental impact statement on the effects of these fish, which apparently has not been completed (so would that be the EPA?).

But what has raised the hackles of many who are concerned about “FrankenFish” is that the FDA has no current method for evaluating a product like that of AquaBounty’s.  According to the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, FDA employees have evaluated the fish as a “veterinary drug,” not a food product.  Three of the four studies on which the agency based its review were non-peer-reviewed and conducted by AquaBounty, the very company that would benefit from producing the fish.  The FDA could also put the fish on the market without any labeling requirements.

In many ways, our food choices have never been better.  Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s can recall with a laugh of what ended on the dinner table, or more likely, the TV tray.  New technology like the Internet and old methods like farming without chemicals allow us to choose carefully what goes from market to our kitchens.  The flip side, of course, is that biotechnology was a word in few people’s vocabularies a couple generations ago.  Obama’s joke brought us a brief moment of levity, but the risk that GE salmon may end up in markets, bought by consumers who should know what they are eating, is not very funny.

Leon Kaye is Editor of GreenGoPost.com; you can follow him on Twitter.



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  • Alexander Grobman

    Transgenic salmon do not grow bigger, they just grow faster to attain the same finalcommercial weight aimed at. They do´nt grow finally any bigger than no GM fish, so they would pose no problem if one or more of them ever escpes. They are genetically female and sterile because they are triploid, so they will not reproduce in the external environment. They will be produced, furthermore, in confinement. They are no differnt en any way from other salmon, threy just grow faster meaning that their supply and final lower cost to the consumer will be assured now that ocean fisheries of salmon are becoming exhausted and the salmon production of Chile has dropped by 73%. GM salmon is safe to humans as 15 years of trials have determined and it has a brilliant future around the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leon-Kaye/726541285 Leon Kaye

    So it has been tested for 15 years, but shouldn’t it go through rigorous testing at the FDA to be sure? And shouldn’t it be labeled so that consumers know what they are buying?

    • Shannon

      @LEON The FDA doesn’t test GMO’s The companies producing them do. The results of the test ran by the companies looking to market them are the only available scientific data and becomes the sole source of information the FDA relies on to determine if its safe. Scared yet?

      “In 1998, six Canadian government scientists testified before the Senate that they were being pressured by superiors to approve rbGH, that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet in a government office, and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of $1-2 million to pass the drug without further tests.”

      http://bit.ly/dZW6OC

      • Shannon

        I know there is a bit of a contradiction to what I wrote and what I quoted. The quote I was for added theatrics, but to clarify, in the US the FDA often relies solely on studies administered by Monsanto. This from the FDA website. http://bit.ly/e68UBI

        “Monsanto has concluded, in essence, that the glyphosate-tolerant soybean variety they have developed is not significantly altered within the meaning of 21 CFR 170.30(f)(2) when compared to soybean varieties with a history of safe use. At this time, based on Monsanto’s description of its data and analysis, the agency considers Monsanto’s consultation on this product to be complete.”

        Opponents of Monsanto also say the FDA relied solely on studies administered by Monsanto for rBGH in cows milk.

        Thanks for letting me clarify this.