Friday, November 16, 2007

The Environmental Threats of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Written by Juliana DeVries, Eco-rep for Wallach

Genetically modified foods have been a controversial issue since their invention. Genetically modified foods have the potential to solve world hunger and vitamin deficiencies, but yet at the present moment, we are not taking advantage of this opportunity. GE foods are not helping the poor, but are only hurting our ecosystems and possibly our health.

At the present moment, the FDA is deliberating over whether genetically modified salmon that can grow to three times the size of regular salmon can be released into the ocean. This is an alarming fact, since these GE organisms are potentially very harmful.

Even GE salmon raised in farms pose problems to the environment and to human health. Eating farmed salmon in exposes you to antibiotics, which are a health concern because a human that consumes massive amounts of antibiotics in their food may become resistant to antibiotics for illnesses that person may acquire. Farmed fish are also fed pink pigment to keep their color the same as wild salmon who get their color from the pink bottom-feeders they eat in the ocean. If the farmed salmon were not fed this dye, they would be an unappetizing dark gray. GE salmon would pose more even risk than regular farmed salmon, because GE salmon are usually fatter than normal salmon, and pollutants accumulate in fat, so they have a higher risk of poisoning.

Farmed fish also have a tendency to escape into the wild. For example, in 2000, 170,000 salmon escaped from a fish farm in Maine. If genetically modified fish are exposed to wild populations, they could out-compete wild populations and infiltrate the fragile ocean ecosystem. Because of their large size, the GE salmon would be desirable mating partners for the wild salmon. It has also been suggested that GE salmon be made sterile. Though this would solve the problem of containing the GE traits, if wild salmon are selecting and mating with the sterile fish instead of with the wild salmon, the population of salmon could decline rapidly.

Genetically modified foods do have the potential to help the world. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks as in the case of “Golden Rice”—a type of rice genetically modified to contain vitamin A and helps with the absorption of iron. The seeds are free of charge in attempt to bring this product to poor people in Asia who are in dire need of these vitamins. Salmon, on the other hand, helps very few people, and creates health and environmental concerns.

From an environmentalist’s standpoint, I also view the introduction of GE salmon as a threat not only to our health and our ocean ecosystem, but also to the natural world as a whole. The salmon is a romantic fish. We picture hundreds of salmon jumping in a waterfall and nature seems right. The perversion of this scene seems like a direct attack on nature itself.