Sometimes the precautionary principle can run amok. Anti-science people who don't accept climate science use it to prevent meaningful policy actions related to the environment while anti-science people who don't accept biology block efforts to improve food sources so crops can grow in areas where the world's poorest live, or improve yields to feed more people, and use silly labels like "Frankenfood."
Scientifically, food that is mutated randomly by high-energy cosmic rays is not superior just because it is 'natural', any more than shooting a tiger that wants to eat your dog is unnatural because you killed the tiger with a gun. Precisely engineered changes that improve yields help everyone; it keeps costs lower for poor people, it helps the environment because less waste means less fossil fuels used per person fed, and it's culturally good because it shows that a progressive society wants to make life better for people and not hide in fear from science.
Given that, why would three administrations, one Republican and two Democrat, stonewall approval of what is arguably the most thoroughly tested genetic modification in the world? Salmon have been genetically modified since I was a kid yet none have been approved for food production yet due to constant political lobbying by anti-science environmentalists.
The AquAdvantage salmon
has been under federal regulatory review by the FDA since 1995. What is so scary about this fish, such a worry that Congress and presidents of both sides are worried they will alienate environmentally concerned people? It carries a gene from Chinook salmon that speeds growth and improves feed efficiency in farm-raised fish.
In that same period, a dozen dangerous drugs have been pulled off the market that had gotten FDA approval; there were expensive settlements for Vioxx, used to treat arthritis, because the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and Avandia, once the world’s best-selling diabetes drug, is untouchable after the FDA restricted it and Europeans pulled it completely.
Activists cite the precautionary principle and insist this genetically enhanced fish might force the wild salmon population into extinction if they get into the wild or might pose an increased allergy risk for consumers. Where is the science data for those 'might' insinuations? Well, there is none, it is literally a red herring - because herring contain far more allergens than these salmon.
What is the approval process for animals created through 'conventional' modification? Trivial. And the FDA has agreed there is no risk in these salmon but political shelling by unpleasant anti-science leftists has continued to keep them from granting approval.
With a slippery slope on one side and the precautionary principle on the other, no science would ever get done if we let irrational concerns lead to blockades. 15 years with no problems found is plenty of time for approval. Science needs to buck its political allies on this one and stand up for progress.
Citation: Alison L Van Eenennaam&William M Muir, 'Transgenic salmon: a final leap to the grocery shelf?', Nature Biotechnology 29, 706–710 (2011) doi:10.1038/nbt.1938 Published online 05 August 2011
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