Friday, 20 May 2016

Are Big Salmon the Next Pink Margarine?

(Two salmon clearly uniterested in the debate)

Genetic modification and food based luddites

First and foremost I want to make it clear I am in no way a strong supporter of genetic modification or selective breeding or any similar practice. I am also in no way opposed. I believe that these issues have to be examined on a case by base basis. Selective breeding, genetic modification’s older less cool cousin has had its share of failures. Take the Pug, a dog so inbred it can barely breathe. Or the modern turkey, so fat it cannot mate with its partner requiring  a ‘turkey jerker’ at every modern turkey farm (seriously look it up, Mike Rowe did an episode of Dirty Jobs on it). Genetic modification is a process that merely speeds up development. It doesn’t create problems, it just speeds up the rate at which we notice them. So for someone to say we should carte blanche, ban a species simply because they have been genetically modified is the food equivalent of being a luddite. This is it seems a much more reasonable move to simply ask for some labeling. “The consumer must know” “it’s an issue of choice, label it so the consumer will know” etc. While this sounds like the reasonable voice of a group who is simply concerned for the well being of people, lets take a step back in time to see the impact, labeling or mandating product differentiation can have.

(Somewhat sinister take on margarine manufacturing)
Why is margarine yellow? It seems like an odd question, but butter’s 20th century rival did not always have such a sunny disposition. When the product was first released, there was outcry from dairy producers, “How will people tell the difference ?” “It’s about choice, and protecting the consumer!” they said. After all margarine was made in a wholly unnatural way compared to butter. Whipping up cheap oils with new fangled machines was strange and not many people understood the process. 

“It could cause health risks, as it’s long term effects hadn’t been studied!”. So after some intense lobbying a regulation was passed that forced margarine to be either bright pink, or grey in colour. Naturally this was an unpopular move for the fledgling product, and could have potentially killed the industry. Being the slippery operator it is however, margarine started including ‘mix in dye kits’ with their products. The product continued to sell steadily, and after the issue became moot through this clever move the regulations were eventually lifted and the product we all know and, lo… ok love seems strong. The product we are all aware of, became what it is today.
If the parallel between this and the salmon isn’t already apparent, let me further drive it home. Genetically modified salmon is suffering from the same issue that plagued many products before it. It is new, it involves some scary little understood process, it might even cause health risks. These are the bread and butter of the opposition. For some variety, one of the worst arguments they employ follows, quotes taken from a CBC article:
  • Butler said his group is concerned about the "irreversible" environmental risk of genetic contamination of wild Atlantic salmon should genetically modified salmon escape from production facilities.
However earlier in the article it was noted that
  • The eggs for the salmon, which grow at twice the rate of regular salmon, are raised in a facility in the eastern Prince Edward Island community of Bay Fortune and exported to Panama, where they're grown in above-ground tanks.
I’m not sure if this group is suggesting the growth rate is so fast these fish could escape their above ground tanks and evolve legs, walk to the nearest stream an contaminate local fish, or what, but the argument seems weak at best.

Scare tactics and general rabble rousing  is why salmon producers of the ‘natural variety’ want a big fat “GENETICALLY MODIFIED FRANKEN-FISH” label stamped on this new species. A move that is obviously intended to gut the market. This is all the while the producer, with conformation from the FDA, has said the product is “indistinguishable” from the natural product. In this case the ‘natural producers’ can’t force the ‘Franken-Fishers’ to colour their product pink… because it’s salmon, the label is their last bastion of food based luddites.
Look salmon producers, we have food shortages and supply issues world over, genetic modification is the continuation of many ‘natural’ human techniques used to better cultivate our food. Its not some bogey man, its changing a species with a scalpel, not a club. Stop trying to turn margarine pink, and leave the salmon alone, there’s plenty of fish in the sea after all.

CBC source -

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