Something Fishy

So, some biotech company called Aqua Bounty made a salmon that grows faster and bigger than normal salmon. The FDA is in the process of approving it, but the U.S. Consumers Union doesn’t trust the research and wants more independent investigation. And furthermore, if the fish is approved for market, they want it to be labeled as a genetically modified food. But the FDA says there’s “no biologically relevant difference” between it and its un-engineered predecessor, so there’s no need to give it any special label. Besides that, argues, Aqua Bounty, if you label it as “genetically modified,” people will be scared away and not buy it.

I don’t know why the genetic modification lobby would be against a label. The stated reason for developing a genetically modified salmon are purely capitalistic: human population growth, increased demand for, um, “fish protein,” and the need to keep production up and costs low. So, act like a capitalist. Put your trust in the market and let the consumers decide if it’s a viable business.

If the genetically modified product is cheaper and there is no difference in quality and people want it, they will buy it, and you’ll have a winner. Congratulations!

If people don’t like it, you have to either work harder to prove it’s the same as naturally occurring fish or just suck it up as a loss. New products fail all the time. Remember Crystal Pepsi?

I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction against genetically modified fish. Humans have been engaging in genetic modification and artificial selection since they stopped roaming the plains, built some tents, and decided to give farming a go. You think God made the vegetables you see at the grocery store? Nope. That dog you have curled in your lap? Sorry. People made them by choosing the stuff they liked and throwing away the stuff they didn’t like. Tampering with nature is just one of our things — and the people who are against GM salmon have been living happily as the products of a society that embraces genetic trickery for generations.

However, we also have the potential to cause great harm with invasive species that can wreck the natural balance — or create a new one.

For that reason, I say label it as what it is. Simple honesty. Any fear of calling it what it is suggests that there’s a reason to be afraid. And don’t be so distrustful of the consumer. If it’s cheaper and it takes good, no one’s going to care anyway.


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