By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa
“People don’t want to eat it,” claimed Dana Perls, referring to genetically modified salmon.
When this professional activist talked to the Washington Post, she should have made clear that she speaks only for herself.
That’s because I’m a person who really does want to eat more salmon and I’m glad that biotechnology will make it easier for me to buy it: I can’t wait to put a chunk of its pink meat on the end of my fork.
Two weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved GM salmon for human consumption. After nearly two decades of study, scientists at the agency concluded that there are “no biologically relevant differences” between GM salmon and conventional salmon raised on fish farms or in the wild.
I love to eat salmon—and this new product promises to be just as delicious as other types of salmon. “The flesh is exquisite,” said a food writer, according to Vox. “Buttery, light, juicy. Just as Atlantic salmon should be.”
Taste is just one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to the arrival of GM salmon. The others include affordability, health, and environmental and economic sustainability.
Genetic modification promises to make salmon less expensive. The FDA-approved salmon is essentially an Atlantic salmon, with a gene transferred from a Pacific Chinook salmon to promote faster growth and a gene from another fish called an ocean pout to encourage year-round growth. The resulting salmon can reach market size in half the time, requiring fewer resources.
So GM salmon will taste good at a great price—and they’ll also be good for my health.
A year and a half ago, my doctor put a couple of stents in my arteries. Then he told me to pay better attention to my diet, and to think about eating more fish because they’re an excellent source of low-calorie, high-protein food. I’ve tried to meet this challenge and look forward to the day when the improved affordability of GM salmon will help me do it.
The health benefits will go beyond me and everybody else who eats GM salmon. They’ll also extend to the environment.
“The current practice of using wild-caught salmon as a food source is not sustainable,” said William Muir, a genetics professor at Purdue University who supports the advent of GM salmon. “Our oceans are overfished.”
The new salmon will help solve that problem—they’ll be raised on fish farms, far away from wild stocks. They won’t escape into nature because they’ll be physically separated from salmon habitat. Even if they somehow make it out, however, they won’t reproduce: Every GM salmon will be a sterile female.
They’ll even help fight climate change, because they’ll have a smaller carbon footprint than non-GM salmon.
Although the FDA based its decision on scientific facts and years of study, a few politicians have reacted poorly to the approval: “I’m spitting mad,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska.
When she’s not spitting, Murkowski is trying to protect a special-interest group: old-fashioned salmon producers. I wish them well, but they shouldn’t exploit political connections to stand in the way of innovations that deliver healthy products at a good price to ordinary consumers.
That’s an abuse of power—and if the special interests always were to win, we’d still be making phone calls on rotary devices with cords that plug into walls.
We’re starting to hear demands that GM salmon carry warning labels. This is silly. But, if some consumers choose to avoid GM salmon, they can always shop for fish with packaging that says “wild caught” or “not genetically engineered.”
GM salmon will help our economy in traditional ways as well. Americans eat hundreds of millions of pounds of salmon each year. Although some of it comes from Alaska, most of it in fact is imported from other countries. GM salmon initially will be produced in Canada and Panama, but the technology is American and we can expect this food to become a flourishing domestic industry.
This will create jobs in the heartland, for people who work at fish farms to farmers who raise the food the fish eat to truckers who transport feed.
Best of all, though, the ability to access GM salmon will help people like me eat good food and live longer lives on a healthy planet.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).