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Genetically modified salmons approved by the FDA (newscientist.com)
35 points by jaequery 1664 days ago | hide | past | web | 61 comments | favorite

As someone who doesn't care at all about eating genetically modified foods, I expect the argument over labeling will break out soon. To fire the first shot: I really wish they'd label genetically modified foods. It seems a small courtesy for those who do have concerns. And those who don't? Well, we don't care. That's the point.

You are rational. Many people are not. Labelling a food as "genetically modified" is the same to them as labelling it as "radioactive" or "contains excrement".

I'm not sure if labelling food as genetically modified is a useful warning, or if it would be the same as saying "wifi used in this building". WIFI isn't harmful, and eventually it's going to be everywhere and not avoidable. Yet you still have people who claim that electronic smog causes all sorts of things.

I'm happy to eat these things. I'm gently worried about releasing organisms into the wild with "exogenes" (or whatever they're called). Evolution is amazing and powerful and wonderful. And human intervention in eco-systems isn't filled with particularly great examples - a long list of invasive species comes to mind.

How many buildings in California do you regularly come across with the "This building contains chemicals known in the State of California to cause cancer" or something to that effect? They are everywhere. It doesn't stop 99% of people from entering these buildings to work or live in them.

I actually do get the worry of changing the ecosystem. That's the biggest concern to me as well.

And I think I get your concern about the labeling as well. You're worried that people will assume the worst. I mean, you called it a "warning". But I expect it to be more like an organic labeling. Some people will care, most won't. Is it useful? Only to those who care.

If people want labels, they should demand them in the market. Don't buy foods that don't label. Do buy foods that do label. If they want to buy a food that doesn't label, write the producer and tell them you won't buy without a label.

I'm already seeing a number of products proudly claiming they don't use GMOs.

That's a lovely capitalist way to think about it, but it won't do much. Foods labeled non-GMO or non-hormonally-enhanced or whatever are only labeled so to target their market: the sorts of people who already care.

Branding food as GMO has only negative connotations. I think the way forward is to demand for a non-GMO label. This is more realistic and will work better when partially implemented.

It makes zero sense for companies to be required to list what is NOT in their food. Yeah, let's scrap listing ingredients and instead list everything that isn't in an item. ;)

Non-GMO is not an ingredient, it is a classification. Ingredients either classify or not and the label on the package speaks to the classification. A common example is "not from concentrate".

Edit: (sorry for changing my comment, I add the original below).

You are picking on the wording. There must be a succinct way to say non-genetically modified animal.

Example: Chicken. Very succinct.

If it's GMO: GMO-Chicken. Seems succinct as well.

Non-GMO Chicken. Least succinct of the 3.

Isn't that like saying "does not contain excrement" will work better?

This seems pretty relevant:


Do some products on the market contain excrement? Because if they do I would either like to know all that do or at least some that do not.

Shrimp is the first thing that comes to mind. Never seen shit-free shrimp labels.

Shrimp should probably be labeled "contains cockroaches" too.

Never bought a package of deveined shrimp?

I'm making an analogy to the earlier remark that labeling things "has GMO" is like labeling them "has excrement" and "is radioactive."

"Has excrement" would certainly be perceived as negative, but the effect on my shopping of "has no excrement" would be a lot more negative (trying to find this sticker on everything I purchase, for example).

If the main argument against telling people the truth is that they won't buy a product, I feel that's not a good argument.

If informed people won't do something, the answer shouldn't be to keep them in the dark, no matter how much you disagree with their reasons.

Other animals bred to have fast-growing qualities typically suffer incredibly painful problems supporting their unnatural weight. When are people going to realize that:

A) just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

B) animals are not playthings put on Earth for us to do whatever we want with.

We can eventually fix the pain thing if that's an issue.

And Christianity takes an opposing view, meaning that this attitude is deeply ingrained in western culture. (Which I happen to agree with.[0])

"01:001:026 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." - King James Bible

Source: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/30/pg30.txt

[0]: The attitude, on this particular issue.

And since when have men ever invested money into finding ways to relieve animal suffering in our food raising processes? They can't even be bothered to use dirt cheap pain killers during some of the most horrendous practices.

Let's avoid the vegetarian arguments for the moment, because they are usually more heat than light.

Are you saying that we can do whatever we like to animals?

Or that we can do whatever we like to animals so long as it benefits humans?

Or that we can do whatever we like so long as the benefit is significant?

Or what?

Seems to me like your line of questioning + connotation can be applied to greenpeace and peta just as well as they can to farming.


>Are you saying that we can do whatever we like to animals?

Technically they can't stop us. But that's probably not the answer you're looking for.

Inflicting unnecessary harm on semi-sentient life forms that feel pain is probably immoral. So while we can do whatever we want, certain things are not moral to do.

> Or that we can do whatever we like to animals so long as it benefits humans?

Right now current conservation efforts have the irreplaceable property of extinct animals as an axiom. This is, for the moment, true. So we have to measure decisions in something akin to utils. Killing off the zebra to cure somebodies headache probably isn't a smart trade.

At the same time we need to be cautious, when we start playing large games with the ecosystem, we incur the risk of large losses. (See: Just about every invasive species introduced as a direct result of human intervention.) Right now one of the large reasons for saving species from extinction is biodiversity. The less biodiversity in the ecosystem, the higher the chance of a key species being wiped out by disease or aggressive predation and collapsing the whole system. (See: Pollinating insects.)

Right now the benefit to humans of saving as many species as possible from invisible deaths by our machinations is a net positive. In the future, it may make sense to "upgrade" organisms to give fitness for a particular purpose. This process may involve organisms being out-competed to extinction by GMOs.

> Or that we can do whatever we like so long as the benefit is significant?

Well right now current meat processing procedures induce great pain to the animals involved. This is an externalized cost that does not show up in consumer prices. Meaning that even though the morally optimal solution would be something like naturally grown animals on a large pasture, the evolutionarily optimal solution ends up being animal death camps.

There are efforts to grow meats independent of their traditional hosts through bioengineering, but these efforts have not taken off yet. If successful, they could save millions of animal lives, at the potential cost of the majority of the species. (Or even all of it.) Is that worth it? Is it selfish for humans to "obsolete" an animal it no longer finds useful? We did this to horses.

We need to be careful about "benefit". The Soviets drained the Aral Sea in a large irrigation project. [0] This of course resulted in the destruction of the surrounding ecosystem, and is now apparently leading to health problems for the people who live there locally. Was that worth it?

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Plan_for_the_Transformat...

tl;dr: Currently the only way to satisfy our demand for meat is to slaughter millions of animals. Because of market pressures, these animals end up dying painfully, or even living painfully. This is not an morally optimal situation and I feel that certain aspects could be improved, with potentially disastrous consequences for the species involved.

"Semi-sentient"? "Smart trade"?

This attitude toward animals is just sad. We're talking about other beings with emotions and desires. I wish scientists could GMO humans into not being so arrogant toward other species. That's a genetic experiment I could get behind.

I use the former term to clarify that I don't ascribe human levels of consciousness to animals, do you?

As for the latter, since you brought it up:

The thing about stuff like "How many Zebras are worth a headache." is that if you think about it enough, you end up at questions like "How many zebras are worth a human?" and then "Are all human lives equal?". When trying to answer such questions things get fuzzy and icky and hard to answer satisfactorily. Then theres versions of those questions where you ask if the answer changes if it's your life being weighed.

Even though it's intuitively obvious that somebodies fleeting minor pain is not worth the cost of losing an entire species of large mammal, talking about "fair trades" with sentient creatures gets weird and frustrating very quickly.[0]

[0]: I personally like the phrase "Infinite Hair" to describe situations like this. (ftp://ftp.trailing-edge.com/pub/rsx11freewarev2/rsx81b/374001/jargon.txt)

No, I do not feel the need to differentiate between the varying consciousness of animals in a discussion such as this. I feel they are owed the basic right to life, freedom from suffering, and an equal right to that which they have an interest in, such as raising their young. For every qualification you could find to rationalize treating animals poorly, aside from the species label we have applied to them, the same qualifications can be found in certain people. That's why it gets fuzzy and icky to start calculating "smart trades" that compromise the rights of some for the good of others.

You should check out Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. I'm not saying I agree with everything he supports, but he makes a bullet proof argument supporting the fact that speciesism is just like any other discrimination, and relies on the same logic as racism, sexism and so on.

> I wish scientists could GMO humans into not being so arrogant toward other species. That's a genetic experiment I could get behind.

So you want to use mind control to bend the human race to your will? That sounds like a good idea.

Sounds about as good an idea as using gene manipulation to create unnatural species of animals for reasons as shallow as being hungry and preferring salmon to vegetables.

Christianity takes an opposing view to logic as well.

I actually mention this not because I'm a Christian, but to let you know that the cultural precedent for this attitude in the west is deeply seated, so the answer to your question may be "A long time" or "Never".

I'm fascinated by your B statement, because it requires a source of authority, namely it begs the question: who says?

Why aren't animals here for our use, to do with as we like? What authority (entity or argument) are you referring to that declares otherwise? And why is that authority worth listening to?

It was an opinion. The authority is my moral compass.

animals bred to have fast-growing qualities typically suffer incredibly painful problems supporting their unnatural weight

Fish in water won't have this problem, I think...

just because you can do something doesn't mean you should

But just because this is true doesn't mean you shouldn't

Animals of unnatural size also deal with heart problems and other complications. Just because you make them bigger doesn't mean you make their bodies capable of handling their larger size perfectly.

... those poor ROUS's

...I don't think they exist.


"The potential hazards addressed in this EA center on the likelihood and consequences of AquAdvantage Salmon escaping, becoming established in the environment, and spreading to other areas. These hazards must be addressed for the production of eyed-eggs, grow-out to market size, and disposal (i.e., of fish & fish wastes)."


"As discussed in ยง2.4.2.1, the estimated escape rate of salmon from sea cages is about 1%. Sea cages, or net pens, have a direct connection with the aquatic environment."

1% of 50.000-90.000 fish in sea cage it's not something negligible, the first direct impact might be against the non-GE Atlantic salmon (salmo salar). Especially that salmon eats salmon eggs and so the dominant specie might become the GE one.

You might say, oh it's fine it's not touching the diversity of Salmon, it's just replacing the Atlantic salmon with another one. Wait, they took some coding sequence from the pacific salmon (and especially from the oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and added the "anti freezing" protein from zoarces americanus. So this "subspecie" got an interesting level of properties to find its place in the atlantic and/or in the pacific (where the diversity of salmons (Oncorhynchus) is much higher) region. Those risks are without any spreading of the genetic modification (assuming that triploid induction is effective with a probability of 1, another point where the scientific literature is lowering down the probability of effectiveness).

I suppose those risks are not really considered by the FDA as critical because the F is for Food in FDA. So the risk of changing the whole profile of wild salmon with such "GE" salmon is not negligible.

> As a precaution, the fish are all female and contain three copies of each chromosome rather than two, rendering them sterile.

They won't replace atlantic salmon

"But the sterilization process is not perfect; up to 5% of treated salmon could still reproduce."

But what if they mate and spread their mutant genes? I don't think you understand how this works.


Nature will find a way.

Do you know a way to have 100% triploid female in a set of 1 million females?

i've stopped eating salmon a while back, the way theyre farmed is nothing short of disgusting. I think a deathrate of 20% is considered good in those tanks.

But seriously who wants to eat animals that live on corn? for a subtle introduction on where the us meat comes from i suggest http://www.eatinganimals.com/

Everyone should rethink their meat consumption. First, if you read nutrition books, you realize that in the long term, it's not healthy. It's much better to eat vegetables. Secondly, you can get all the nutrients and vitamins you need from whole foods. Thirdly, it can be cheap. A can of chickpeas is around $1 and it really fills you up for many hours. I'm not saying everyone should be vegetarian. But if everyone was 70 % vegetarian things would be very different.

>>First, if you read nutrition books, you realize that in the long term, it's not healthy. It's much better to eat vegetables.

As someone who is eyeball-deep in nutrition science, I demand a credible citation.

Read the books by Joel Fuhrman, Eat to Live being his most famous one, http://www.amazon.com/Eat-Live-Amazing-Nutrient-Rich-Sustain...

He's not against eating meat, but portions should be very low (5-10% of calories from animal products, no more, and this is a veeery small piece of meat). A (near-)vegan diet with B12- and DHA-supplements is the healthiest (DHA can be derived from algae instead of fish oil - the fish get it from algae too). An objection may be: but eating pills isn't natural. Well, eating GMO-fish surely isn't natural either.

A website with a lot of little video's about the same nutrition principles can be found here: http://nutritionfacts.org/

If you say, "5-10% of your diet should be meat" you will find your audiences much more receptive than if you say "You shouldn't eat meat". In my case this is because I don't trust extremist anything, particularly when it comes to food.

If the former is your belief and not the latter, please open that way.

I was reflecting the message of Fuhrman MD. He's not saying 5-10% should be, but COULD be meat or animal products (including eggs, dairy, etc). 0% is also fine or even better. He allows this percentage because some people find it too restrictive to be vegetarian or vegan. So optimally you should keep it as low as possible, but there isn't much lost if you still keep it around 5%. Most people don't realize one egg is already that amount. You'd have to eat vegan the rest of the day to stay within limits. Animal products can be used as condiments to flavor your food, not as a substantial part of your diet. If you want to have a look at the scientific data, read his book(s).

What turned me off farmed salmon was this study on chemical contaminants http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Dec05/salmon.ssl.html. Key phrases "Consumers should not eat farmed fish from Scotland, Norway and eastern Canada more than three times a year" (for other origins its generally six times).

Its worth noting that you can get wild-fishery salmon too (though generally all Atlantic Salmon is aquaculture).

'Plenty more fish in the sea' as they say. Salmon's unique, sure, but I'd rather buy something I am fairly certain is from a wild fishery.

Has the story changed much since 2005 when this was published?

I have a different reason for not eating farmed salmon: it looks and tastes awful.

You can always eat wild fish. Most stores have at least some selection.

Upon further research, here are a few things that caught my attention:

#1) There was a bit of Congress lobbying to get it approved.

#2) There is a 5% chance that these fishes could actually become fertile.

#3) These fishes have an extra chromosome and a novel protein not found in any other salmons.

Could you share your sources? (I'm genuinely interested vs. trying to be a dick)

What is the mechanism by which they could become fertile?

There are legitimate concerns surrounding genetically modified foods. Some potential problems include the creation of monocultures that permit rapid and more complete devastation from disease, selective pressure that creates superior pests and predators (positive feedback toward creating monocultures), negative ecological network effects, overuse of pesticides, and reliance on commercial seed (you think software patents cause problems...). Food safety is one, but it's a given for crops intended for human consumption.

That said, the real problem is fear from people who do not understand the science. We've been modifying what we eat for thousands of years. Selective breeding has allowed us to feed today's world. Development of short-stalk, high-yield, disease resistant wheat by Norman Borlaug in the 1950s secured a food supply for Mexico and India. His cultivars are now credited with saving more than a billion lives. Where selective breeding got us to where we are today, genetic engineering will carry us into the future. We need higher yields per acre to support a growing population. That means industrialized farming and cultivars that support industrial methods. So-called "Roundup-ready" varieties of plants allow mass spraying of herbicides over fields, and let desirable plants crow without competition from weeds (the plants have been made resistant to the herbicide). Corn engineered to carry the "Bt" gene for a bacterial endotoxin produces its own insecticide. In each case the modification allows for a higher yield per acre. Some may say that selective breeding is different than recombinant methods, which is true. Introducing exogenous DNA into an organism is different than crossing two parent organisms. The introduction of new DNA or new alleles does occur in nature however, via viral insertion or mutation. Somewhere between 5% and 10% of our own DNA is the result of viral insertions. Plants and salmon are effected by viruses too. We are only accelerating evolution down particular paths (albeit perhaps down very unlikely paths).

So genetic modification is not inherently harmful, and it can confer wonderfully advantageous benefits. Baseless fear is unwarranted, but cautious concern is justified. When having debates or reporting on GM foods it is important that we discuss both the benefits of GMO foods along with the concerns I mentioned above. It is prudent that any new organism be fully studied and understood before it is deployed in the outside world, and at a large scale. Environmental impact needs to be understood. In the US, GMO foods must clear many regulatory hurdles before being approved. Among these are complete characterization of the genomically integrated transgene(s) and demonstration that the transgene(s) remains stable over multiple generations. Apparently these and other criteria have been met to the satisfaction of the reviewers examining the farmed salmon. Here is the environmental impact study provided to the FDA by the salmon company:


Even though I support genetic engineering of foods, I am against labeling of GMO foods as currently proposed because I think a simple statement is inadequate. Saying "GMO food" says nothing about the modification, and only serves to incite fear. In a time of rapid whole genome sequencing, I want to be able to scan a QR code on a package and get a link to the GenBank entry for the food organism in question, along with the impact studies and a plainly worded overview. I want to see notes for which insertions, deletions, or other changes were made. I want to see the DNA diff on the genomic source code. Public food should be open source.

A few years ago I had lunch with Richard Stallman (a fun story itself), and wanted to get his take on gene patents and "closed source" organisms. While he expressed an understandable disapproval of corporate monopolies on crops and biopharmaceuticals, he did not seem to have a strong desire for Freedom in genetically engineered products. I found that surprising. He thought the barrier to entry was too high for people to make their own genetic changes as they might make changes to software. I think we need to consider that genetic engineering is only going to get easier.

From some cursory reading it looks like the salmon in question in this article has been modified with a promoter (kind of like a compiler flag to enable production of a gene product) from the pout fish, and a subsequent growth hormone gene from a different salmon species. It grows faster, is more aggressive, and is sterile. It seems that the aquaculture companies interested in using the fish intend to keep it isolated from the outside environment, but even in the event of a release the fish would merely eat prey. They would ultimately die. Since they are sterile, the likelihood is low that they would be able to outcompete unmodified variants in their single generation. It seems they are safe all around.

If anyone is curious, the inserted gene construct is known as opAFP-GHc2, and its CDS source is available:


My biggest concern isn't the science, it's corporate control. I fear a future where poor people are locked into licensing seeds rather than being able to sow the previous year's crop, and where people can't grow organic anymore because of cross contamination.

I guess ultimately, I see:

Fear = lobbying power + profit motive + self replication + the fact we all share the same ecosystem + potential for imperfect science

Of these, it isn't the science that worries me most, it's the motives of the creators and the politics surrounding it.

Finally, labelling items as containing GM appears difficult, but it's also a fundamentally democratic act. If the only way you can persuade people to eat something is when they don't know what it is, then you have a problem. I feel for the executive who absolutely knows his product is ok to eat. But if people don't want it, that's the way it is, and I don't think the answer is to solve the science only ... it's to reduce the equation above.

Edit: to be more precise than maybe I managed above. My problem isn't one of science. It's one of trust.

I'd avoid food labelled with GM for two reasons:

a) I don't trust the creators or the politics.

b) Not buying it shapes the world in a direction that moves away from GM.

This choice is removed if I can't see it on the label.

Thank you for this information. And your statement "Public food should be open source". That's something worth discussing as a society. Food is so important... What do you think about Genetic Engineering for Humans. Is that also the future? We can cut medical costs for everyone by engineering humans to be immune to many known diseases. And better stuff.

Gene therapy is inevitable and is the future. Performing genetic engineering on new human offspring is different, and is a debate perhaps best left to ethicists.

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