The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) met on Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, to determine if genetically modified salmon should be approved for human consumption. If the salmon is deemed safe, after two days of hearings, it will be the first time that a genetically engineered animal has received such approval (businessweek.com). Opponents of the modified fish are concerned about the effects it might have on people’s health and the environment. FDA advisers are providing early indications that the genetically modified salmon is no different than the conventionally farmed salmon.
The debate surrounding genetically engineered (GE) food, called “frankenfood” by some, is a longstanding one. The crop under discussion varies, but the concerns are always the same. In the last few years, opponents of GE techniques have grown louder in the wake of controversies related to such crops as sugar beets and alfalfa, even though soybeans and corn have been genetically modified for years.
U.S. company Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup herbicide, is the cause of the frustration felt by many farmers. This company, which creates weed-killing chemicals, also created genetically modified seeds for various crops to be resistant to those chemicals. More specifically, the seeds will grow into plants that can withstand the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, glyphosate (cornucopia.org). The theory is that these genetically modified plants will produce a more abundant crop for farmers by minimizing the loss from weed damage.
But not all farmers are interested in the concept, particularly ones who are certified organic. Many farmers feel that it is a loss of their right to choose what type of crop they produce if the GE farmers are allowed to plant their seeds nearby. As the plants flower, bees and wind cross-pollinate the plants, creating an uncontrolled environment for organic farmers. Consider what might happen if the neighboring farm is practicing GE methods and his plants contaminate an organic farm. The organic farmer can lose his market and certification (npr.org).
In the case of sugar beets, the USDA was sued for not properly examining the effects of cross-pollination before approving the planting of GE seeds. A federal judge agreed with the argument and instructed the USDA to complete an environmental impact study before any further GE seeds were planted (npr.org). This decision posed new challenges for GE farmers, who no longer have the manpower or equipment needed to sustain crops the conventional way. A Supreme Court case was created out of a similar situation with alfalfa farmers. Again, the USDA was accused of deregulating the sale of GE seeds without first performing an environmental impact statement.
With the growing debate and unanswered questions regarding the economic effects of genetically modified foods, it is possible that the FDA will not go through with the recommended approval of GE salmon. However, in order for progress to take place, new techniques must be tried. There will undoubtedly be naysayers in this matter, but whether or not the potential harm outweighs the good remains to be seen. The debate continues.
Jenifer Goodwin, “FDA Advisers Weigh Approval of Genetically Modified Salmon”, Bloomberg Businessweek
Adrea J. Cook, “Frankenfood Fight: Alfalfa Grower Opposes Genetically Engineered Crop”, The Cornucopia Institute
Dan Charles, “Sugar Beet Beatdown: Engineered Varieties Banned”, NPR