Science beats fear

Scientists at FDA say that genetically engineered salmon would not have a significant impact (FONSI) on the U.S. environment and safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon . This should clear the way for the fish to be farmed, adding a less expensive and healthier option to world diets. It will also take some pressure off badly stressed wild fisheries and generally make our environment better than it would have been. It is great that this report finally came out. It was ready earlier, but it was evidently held up by anti-science politics a the White House.

There is lots of similar good news that is not well reported. For example, I think it is remarkable that U.S. CO2 emissions have dropped to twenty year lows and that we have become the world leader in reducing emissions. Few people seem to know these things and I find little in the media. There used to be a lot more when we were not doing as well. Of course, one of the best things in the environment in my lifetimes is the natural gas revolution.

We are accustomed to bad environmental news and it is easy to provide. Much of it is just plain BS with scary images - like the tap water starting on fire in the pseudo-documentary "Gas Land." A lot of it is based on fear of change. Most of it is true, however, but it is truth out of context. A natural environment is constantly changing, with some things coming and others going.

As trees in a forest grow bigger, the wildlife it supports changes. I remember the controversy on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It is one of the most studied places in the U.S. because of the interaction of wolves and moose. The different animal populations and the forests are always changing. The wolves wiped out the coyotes and impacted the beaver population. If you wanted to document loss, here it is. On the other hand, the wolves at first prospered, by killing moose. Again, look at the moose herd and you can document loss. The decline of the moose numbers allowed forests to regrow, but you could document the loss of moose forage. You get the point. Change is constant. Change brings losses and gains. If you look at only one side of the equation, you can easily paint the picture you want.

For the U.S. in my lifetimes, we have had mostly good ecological news. Lakes are cleaner today than when I was growing up. Forests are healthier. Wildlife is so robust some are even becoming nuisances. Of course, there have been losses. Our task is to judge the balance.

This balance goes for every choice we make. Choices should be informed by information, but there is rarely a choice with only a plus side. This salmon is a good thing, on balance. I like salmon, but it is a little expensive. I look forward to the being able to eat this new salmon.

Political decisions should be informed by science. The Obama folks used to believe that. Let's hope their little lapse re salmon is a one-time-deal.

Posted by Christine & John at December 30, 2012 2:27 PM
Comment #359622

The Euell Gibbons of the world who think that “organic” means healthier, and preach that genetically altered corn, irradiated ground beef are killers make me want to laugh out loud. Those screaming loudest about organic and “green” are somehow making big money from it, just like Al Gore.

Posted by: John Johnson at December 30, 2012 3:15 PM
Comment #359625


Fear is powerful.

I think I dislike most the “precautionary principle”. It sound so scientific and our liberal friends deploy it with reckless abandon. But is it so anti-scientific that it should make any logical person sick.

Intelligent and scientific minded people have a duty to point to the stupidity of these things.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2012 3:47 PM
Comment #359626

The GE salmon, aka the frankenfish, does not represent a case of science over fear. It represents a case of the market over science.

Scientific studies are being giving short shrift, and the word and the studies of the manufacturer are being taken at face value. The frankenfish is being approved by the Food and Drug Administration as if it were a drug, without the involvement of either the NOAA or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A lot of unanswered questions remain, but the desperate financial situation of the manufacturer is driving approval, and past problems have been swept under the rug; for example, in 2008, GE salmon escaped into the ocean, and no one knows what happened as a result. No questions were even asked. The FDA and the manufacturer just pretended that didn’t happen. They don’t even know if the supposed main benefit of GE salmon- twice the normal growth rate- is true.

For my family, salmon is a basic part of our diet. We eat it once and even twice a week. In British Columbia, a small company called Creative Salmon does ‘organic’ farming that is resulting in an excellent farmed King Salmon, and this problem does not pose the risks and unknowns that accompany the frankenfish. While the organic salmon is superior to other farmed salmon, and its price is quite reasonable (typically $10.99/lb), wild caught salmon from the Columbia River, BC, and Copper River remains superior (typically $13.99/lb).

Posted by: phx8 at December 30, 2012 4:30 PM
Comment #359627


Scientists studied it and made a report. It is subject to peer review by others using scientific methods.

The FDA is not owned by the “desperate company” and presumably the Obama officials involved were not dishonest. In fact, it seems that their politics were AGAINST this.

It is nice that you are rich enough to afford organic salmon. You are free to continue to buy it. If all the world ate organic food, however, we would have no wild land left and the environment would be much dirtier.

You have a perfect right to your opinion about the safety and environmental efficacy of organic versus other forms of food. The science doesn’t back you up, however.

In this salmon case, science can find no significant problems. You can choose to be afraid of what might be, but you cannot call that science.

Organic foods, BTW, have often been contaminated with organic pathogens like salmonella and e-coli. Recall that a few hundred years ago everything people ate was organic. Many poor people in developing countries still eat mostly organic. It didn’t always work out so well for all those people who got sick and died of food borne diseases.

BTW - if those GM salmon don’t live up to expectations, nobody will buy them and they will be gone. I always find it interesting when people who want to stand in the way of scientific or technical progress want to point out that the changes will not be worth it. If you are right, it works itself out. Let those fools who want to invest their money do it. If you are right, they will quickly learn their lessons.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2012 4:53 PM
Comment #359628

There are unresolved questions with the frankenfish. Once a GE creature enters the environment, it’s too late to go back- much better to answer those questions first, resolve those issues. This fish is the first food animal to show up on our dinner plates. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation to cover all the bases.

Posted by: phx8 at December 30, 2012 5:09 PM
Comment #359630

C&J….good, solid retort. Agree wholeheartedly.

phx8…..please be specific. What are those “unanswered” questions? What are your major concerns?

Posted by: John Johnson at December 30, 2012 5:22 PM
Comment #359632


There are “unresolved questions” about everything. People still worry about electricity and indeed it kills people every day.

Your organic fish farming has unresolved questions. There is lots of worry about diseases caused by the simple concentration, not to mention the crap.

Most of the GM organisms don’t survive in the wild. They are suited to particular environments. Beyond that, this is a problem with ALL plants and animals. One of the biggest problems we have is with wild pigs and horses, descendents of escaped domestic animals. I don’t underestimate these problems, but we are already in them.

As I always explain, it is balance. On the plus side, we have more and better protein available. We take pressure off depleted wild fisheries, which already is a worldwide crisis. The fact that these fish grow faster with less input means less pollution and smaller footprints.

On the deficit side, we have the possibility that these salmon could escape. This is mitigated by the habits of salmon. You recall, they return to their river of origin to spawn. Where will these salmon return? So this downside risk is small.

You may know something about farmed turkeys. They are bigger and meatier than their wild relatives and much stupider (which is an achievement, since wild turkeys are already really stupid). If they escape, they die within a few days or hours. This giant salmon sounds similar. Good to eat but not adapted to survival.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2012 5:23 PM
Comment #359634


I can’t recall having eaten cobia but I hope it has a favorable taste. Salmon has a bit of a bitter taste to me and this cobia can be grown in the open ocean and reach 2m in length. I should be good for one a day, if I can afford it.

Which brings me back to the thrust of your article. I too, might be optimistic re the future of us and the world in general, but I am concerned as to whether the globalist/corpocratists can deliver us to a safe landing with the coming new world order. And, I’m not at all content with the looming inequality and a 10-20 percent new norm unemployment rate.

Otherwise – pass the biscuits, please.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at December 30, 2012 6:04 PM
Comment #359635

Farmed turkeys are truly stupid creatures. When I was in the USAF, we had to be especially careful not to fly the B-52 over turkey farms at low level. It panicked the turkeys, and they all ran to one corner at once, crushing themselves to death. True story. Then again, maybe the turkeys weren’t so stupid, because anyone who has ever been on the ground when a B-52 flies overhead at low altitude will not forget the experience.

And when I was little, I would visit relatives on farms in TN, just above the AL border. Sometimes I would be assigned to feed the turkeys and chickens. They were nasty, dirty creatures. It should have been fun, but it really wasn’t. Same for chickens.

Anyway… both organic salmon and GE salmon face the same issues caused by concentration. GE salmon seem to suffer an unusually high level of cancers and other problems, but that’s not a deal breaker for me. The real concern is, what happens if they do make it into the wild? That escape in 2008 wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. GE salmon shouldn’t be able to make it in the wild, but the truth is, no one knows, and no one knows what would happen should the frankenfish breed with the wild ones.

I want to see definitive proof that does not pose a risk before putting those GE fish on a plate.

Even then, I wouldn’t eat them. But that’s just me.

Posted by: phx8 at December 30, 2012 6:07 PM
Comment #359636


We couldn’t provide absolute proof that those turkeys don’t pose a risk.

In fact, all domestic animals pose some risk to wild populations and the reverse. You may have heard stories about the return of wild bison populations and how they are spreading disease to domestic cattle.

All domestic plants and animals are genetically modified. Look at a cob of corn you eat today and compare it to the native species. In fact, wheat is so far from its natural roots that scientists are not sure exactly where it came from. And we all know that nature would never produce anything like a chihuahua or a bull dog.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2012 6:34 PM
Comment #359637

You’re conflating natural selection and selective breeding with genetic engineering. They are most definitely not the same.

Posted by: phx8 at December 30, 2012 6:37 PM
Comment #359638


They are the same with the result. In the one, you use random mutations that change the germ lines. In the other, you are more precise in what you are doing.

I think it is a problem of what we call natural. You are assuming that humans can do better than nature, i.e. the GM creature will get out and dominate the natural ones. This is unlikely, since the GM variety is created for a particular unnatural environment.

As I wrote, it seems like a bull dog is a crime against nature. They were created the old fashioned way and they would not long survive in a natural environment.

Think of domestic animals that have gotten into wild populations. They have usually been less likely to survive. Problems with invasive species has almost always been with less or unmodified species. They can compete with wild cousins.

Think what would happen if your bulldog or even your St. Bernard got out among wolves. Are his chances good or bad?

Beyond that, we still have the nature of salmon. They spawn only in fresh water and only in their native streams. In order to breed with a wild population, the giant salmon would have to swim upstream and spawn. It would lack the homing instinct of the wild salmon, so would be unlikely to make the trip. It would probably be surprised (to the extent a fish can be) that the seas cleared out of its mates. And its larger size would make the journey through rapids and shallows more than normally hazardous. All those bears along the way would be happy to have a big, slow fish like that. The GM salmon, or any salmon cannot spawn in the open sea.

So we have conditional probabilities that make it nearly impossible. IF it escapes, IF it survives in the open sea, IF it somehow wanders up a stream where it has never been (why would it do this), IF it makes it past the rapids, shallows, otters and bears, IF the other fish accept it,IF it manages to successfully spawn, IF the sperm/eggs are fertile, it may have a chance. But unless its adaptions are beneficial, natural selection will quickly take out its progeny.

The problem with farming fish comes with concentrations and pollution. The GM salmon might make these things less a problem.

Posted by: C&J at December 30, 2012 7:00 PM
Comment #359647

If genetically altered salmon can safely make it cheaper for folks to by then what’s the problem? Grow them and sell them.
I have to laugh at the folks that are against genetically altered corn. While they are claiming how bad it is for folks they’re most likely eating it. Most farmers grow hybrid corn and have been all my life. Even the ones growing for human consumption. Hybrid corn is genetically altered by mixing the types of corn to make it produce more ears per stalk or more corn per ear, and make it more resistant to disease, blight, and drought.
I have no problem with genetically altered food off any kind as long as it is safe and cheaper.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 30, 2012 11:44 PM
Comment #359649


You are on the wrong side of this issue. Transgenic foods represent a huge opportunity for us to dramatically reduce our ecological footprint when it comes to food production. You are correct to ask for a comprehensive study of the potential impacts of escaped salmon, but that has been done and the results seem to be that the transgenic salmon are inferior breeders when compared to wild salmon.

We have a tough regulatory procedure and it seems AquAdvantage Salmon has cleared all the hurdles. Now it is time for the free market to decide the future of transgenic salmon.

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 30, 2012 11:59 PM
Comment #359651

Read the last line of the abstract you linked:

“Although transgenic males displayed reduced breeding performance relative to nontransgenics, both male reproductive phenotypes demonstrated the ability to participate in natural spawning events and thus have the potential to contribute genes to subsequent generations.”

What happens when these fish “contribute genes” to following generations?

It’s a dangerous game to play. In grossly general terms, I have a high degree of confidence in science and technology. I also know science and technology can go horribly wrong, even assuming everyone acts with the best of intentions.

Take Fukushima.

Take the development of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). They were not developed with evil intent, and they seemed to be nothing more than useful refrigerants, among other things. What could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, CFC’s depleted the ozone layer. Only international cooperation on a massive scale, through the Montreal Accords, kept humanity from cooking itself.

And it was even closer than most people realize. Bromine was just as effective as the fluorine in CFC’s, and the only reason bromine was not used on a wide scale instead of fluorine is that an initial decision was made to go with fluorine, simply because fluorine was just a little bit cheaper. That’s it. Had bromine been chosen, it would have been catastrophic. Bromine was a much, much more powerful agent for destroying the ozone layer. That could have been game, set and match for humanity right there. Such a small thing…

Posted by: phx8 at December 31, 2012 1:51 AM
Comment #359656
What happens when these fish “contribute genes” to following generations?

The transgenic fish are inferior breeders, so Darwin tells us that those genes will be purged.

It’s a dangerous game to play. In grossly general terms, I have a high degree of confidence in science and technology. I also know science and technology can go horribly wrong, even assuming everyone acts with the best of intentions.

Can things go wrong? Certainly they can; there are undoubtedly unknown unknowns that may manifest down the road. However, life is not a risk free endeavor. If we cannot accept a little bit of risk in our lives, then our development as a civilization will grind to a halt. Risk is essential to progress. This doesn’t mean we cannot take reasonable precautions to minimize the risk, which is why we required AquAdvantage to clear those regulatory hurdles with the FDA in the first place.

Lastly, we need to be cognizant that there are risks inherent with being to cautious. Without AquAdvantage, we will continue along the old route of overfishing and/or environmentally damaging aquaculture. Nothing we do will change the fact that people will still demand salmon at the lowest price they can get.

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 31, 2012 11:07 AM
Comment #359659


Warren said it better than I would have.

We are making choices by allowing the fish or by banning it. If you choose to put more stress on wild fisheries, make more pollution and have more expensive protein, indeed give in to fear of the unknown.

There are always more things to be afraid of. We need to be a little more courageous and intelligent in our choices.

There is one more consideration. If you believe global warming is a urgent threat, it means that we will require GMOs, since nature will be unable to adapt quick enough to the changes.

Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2012 12:48 PM
Comment #359666

Fish farming works fine. GE salmon both enjoy and suffer the same advantages and disadvantages as farm raised fish, with one notable exception: GE salmon grow very, very fast.

There’s a well known experiment conducted by the Russians on silver foxes during the 50’s. By using selective breeding, over many generations, wild foxes selected for friendly behavior were eventually bred into tame foxes.

But that’s not all.

The foxes also changed in appearance. Breeding for domesticity resulted in droopy ears and changes in fur coloration. The point?

“And so it was that selecting for a single behavioral characteristic— allowing only the tamest, least fearful individuals to breed—resulted in changes not only in behavior, but also in anatomical and physiological changes that were not directly manipulated.”

Now, instead of selective breeding taking place over many generations, a company has used genetic engineering to breed salmon with one particular characteristic: fast growth. And these GE salmon can breed if they escape in the wild. Suggesting they are ‘inferior breeders’ does NOT mean they will not breed at all; only that fewer will breed. And that begs the question:

What will happen when those GE salmon genes combine with wild salmon genes over many generations? In addition to possible changes in growth rate, what other anatomical and physiological changes will occur?

It’s a heck of a question. It’s a dangerous game.

I understand the desire to provide humanity with readily available, inexpensive food sources. There are some risks worth running.

I just don’t think this is one of them.

Posted by: phx8 at December 31, 2012 4:38 PM
Comment #359671


The GM salmon grow faster on less feed, so there is less input per pound. It implies they crap less too.

Re breeding - the difference with the foxes is actually what you can avoid with GMO. Breeders in the traditional sense, have to take the whole package and make lots of guesses. GM can be more subtle.

I recall talking to a guy about GM sugar cane. I questioned the lack of genetic diversity that might threaten a widespread failure. He explained the the GM crops could have slightly different genetic stock mixed so that pests had a harder time fixing.

Re the salmon breeding - salmon are a particular species. As we discussed, they do not breed in the open ocean. They MUST go up the stream of their origin. An escaped GM salmon would, if it went anywhere, would “return” to the farm. So they CAN breed, but there is no real world circumstance where they will.

Re changing genes - this is happening all the time. Beneficial genes tend to increase and negative ones decline. Those special fish probably would not survive. If they did, so what? Must be better than the old ones.

Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2012 6:01 PM
Comment #359673

Re changing genes - this is happening all the time. Beneficial genes tend to increase and negative ones decline. Those special fish probably would not survive. If they did, so what? Must be better than the old ones.
Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2012 6:01 PM

I am not so sure of that C/J. Did beneficial gene change in humans over the past few centuries in this country lead to our political system today?

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 31, 2012 6:56 PM
Comment #359674

Globalisation has the frogs on their backs. According to WaPo frogs are dying off around he world, except the big African frog and the US bullfrog. The disease has moved from Canada thru Panama at the rate of 15mi per day. I luv frog legs about as well as the best fish dish.

Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed ranting and raving for the year. I guess I feel better for it.

The family will celebrate newyears a little differently this year. At the strike of 12 we will hold hands and go over the cliff together.

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at December 31, 2012 7:19 PM
Comment #359676


Frogs are an interesting case. Amphibians have problems generally because of the disappearance of “vernal ponds”. A vernal pond is essentially a mud puddle. It has to be big enough that it doesn’t dry out during tadpole season, but not so big that it has fish that will eat the eggs.

People don’t like vernal ponds. They tend to fill them in or drain them.

Another problem for amphibians are roads. They actually migrate, but they are slow. As they cross roads, they get run over.

I studied a little re vernal ponds on my land and wrote a note here


The problem with modern society is that natural selection no longer functions. In fact, the stupidest among us tend to have children sooner and have more of them. We have a kind of de-evolution.

Posted by: C&J at December 31, 2012 8:06 PM
Comment #359689

Why is it that our friend on the left are always against anything that could put food on the table cheaper? Every time this subject comes up they drag out the same tired old argument of it ain’t safe. It’s gone through FDA test and passed. Put it on the shelves and save the consumers some money.
The only way I see that GE food could be harmful is if they nuked it to alter it.

I wish the could genetically engineer the temperament of bulls. I was in the pasture the yesterday day and my bull charged my pickup. He’s a big mean old boy that doesn’t like anything but him and his cows moving in his pasture. He hit the right door and now I can’t get it opened. Good thing it’s my old truck.

Posted by: Ron Brown at January 1, 2013 9:28 AM
Comment #359690

Aren’t fish farms usually inland? If so how could GE salmon get into the ocean?
I’ve been on a couple of fish farms. The tanks they raise the fish in ain’t no more than big old concrete fish bowls. They have water filtration systems just like the ones you’ll have in your fish tank at home. Only bigger. Just like your fish tank at home, they don’t change out the water with fish in them. The drain pipes have screens on them just in case they missed a fish or two. I don’t see any way that GE Salmon could get into the wild unless someone intentionally took them out there.

If these GE salmon are inferior breeders how do they plan to keep the breed going?


Posted by: Ron Brown at January 1, 2013 9:48 AM
Comment #359692


Most domestic animals are inferior breeders in relation to their wild cousins. Many types of domestic animals really don’t breed at all in the “natural” sense anymore. This is no problem for animal husbandry, but tends to keep them out of the wild.

Your bull might be active in the traditional sense, but you know that many of the cows born today are the products of artificial insemination.

Re fish farms - we grow talapia, bass, trout and catfish inland. Salmon tend to be farmed in pens on the ocean. Some could escape, but not many and would be unlikely to be successful if they do.

Posted by: C&J at January 1, 2013 9:58 AM
Comment #359698

I believe the plan is to farm the salmon in Panama. The tropical climate there should be inhospitable to escaped fish.

In fact, the stupidest among us tend to have children sooner and have more of them.

Decry it if you want, but this behavior isn’t recent. Since the beginning of time, Darwinian evolution has favored any and all strategies that maximize the number of reproducing offspring. You can call these people “stupid”, but they are also the “fittest”.


Regarding those foxes:

There is a difference between artificial selection, which selects breeding pairs based on phenotype, and genetic engineering, which crafts individuals based on genotype. When you select based upon phenotype, you are giving preference to an undetermined number of genes, which may favor some genes unintentionally. On the other hand, genetic engineering can be more focused. The central dogma of molecular biology describes how the information encoded in the DNA ultimately leads to the formation of a protein that expresses the gene. The relevant genes are already existent in other species so we already can study how they work in an organism.

What will happen when those GE salmon genes combine with wild salmon genes over many generations? In addition to possible changes in growth rate, what other anatomical and physiological changes will occur?

You are going to create hybrids. If this is a Mendelian trait, then it would be relatively easy to predict the phenotype of the offspring. However, it has been demonstrated that the transgenic fish are inferior breeders so they will never dominate the wild salmon. The worst case scenario is that contribute a tiny latent component to the gene pool, but that is unlikely in any case.

Posted by: Warren Porter at January 1, 2013 3:36 PM
Comment #359701


re the stupidest having more kids - it actually is a more recent thing. In the per-industrial times, the less successful tended to die out or have no kids.

On the plus side, there is some indication that birthrates among the poor are also coming down.

In the U.S. intelligence is correlated with success. How much intelligence is inherited is a matter of debate. But we have it coming both ways. I know that Darwinian fitness is determined only by reproductive success, but human have risen above their animal natures. We ask more.

Posted by: C&J at January 1, 2013 6:03 PM
Comment #359712

I didn’t know salmon are farmed in the ocean. Thanks for information. But that raises another question. Are they farmed close enough to shore that they can get then into fresh water to spawn with out much chance of them escaping? Or can they spawn in the ocean since they’re genetically engineered?
I’ve thought of getting rid of my bull and having my cows artificially inseminated. But I’ve had this boy for about 8 years now and it’ll most likely be cheaper to keep him. I’m not trying to sell championship cattle. They’re just for the meat market. But even that is getting pretty selective these days.

Posted by: Ron Brown at January 2, 2013 2:42 AM
Comment #359775
re the stupidest having more kids - it actually is a more recent thing.

The urge to have more kids is not new. In preindustrial society, the less successful produced fewer offspring involuntarily. However, if we gave those people the proper inputs (sanitation, food, etc) the result would be the same.

human have risen above their animal natures

Have they? I’m speaking specifically in the realm of reproduction, which inevitably leads one to examine how we date & marry. From my brief observations of this world, “animal spirits” are still quite alive and well in this particular sphere of human existence.

Posted by: Warren Porter at January 3, 2013 5:07 PM
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