Salmon-Lovers Unite: Help Science Trump Politics


If you enjoy the taste and healthy benefits of salmon, and appreciate that it is available to you, you may want to share your thoughts with the federal government as soon as possible.

Why?   Because the Food and Drug Administration just declared that genetically modified salmon “is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon,” and they are looking for your feedback.

As soon as next year, salmon could become more abundant and less expensive, meaning that salmon lovers will enjoy this heart-healthy food more easily and often.

Before that can happen, however, GM salmon must overcome the harsh opposition of radical anti-biotech groups. This should not have to be a concern. Unfortunately, it is, and failure would deliver a devastating blow not just to a safe product, but also to the very idea of improving our food security with biotechnology.

On December 21, the FDA released an extensive report on GM salmon and opened a 60-day comment period for citizens and organizations to register their opinions. Think of it as the final jumps in a long regulatory salmon run. As this phase proceeds, officials should hear an important message: Consumers know GM salmon is safe and look forward to eating it.

Developed by a Massachusetts company, GM salmon grows to market size in half the time. It achieves this feat by blending the genes of Atlantic salmon with a growth gene from a Chinook salmon and an anti-freeze gene from an ocean pout.

In every other respect, this is an ordinary salmon: It tastes the same and it’s just as healthy. Because the introduction of fishery-raised GM salmon will remove pressure from wild stock, it’s even good for the environment. We’ll have more salmon on our grills as well as in our seas and streams.

I have a special interest in wild salmon because I own a fishing lodge in Alaska. We depend on salmon to thrive in their natural habitat.

Fortunately, GM salmon pose no threat. For starters, they’re sterile and can’t mate. They’re also confined to indoor containers. One of the major test facilities was built in the mountains of Panama, on the theory that even in the unlikely event of a catastrophe; the cold-dependent GM salmon would perish in the regions warm and muddy waters. Similar safeguards would accompany any commercial production.

Because so much care has gone into their advent, GM salmon are on the verge of becoming the first genetically improved animals approved for food consumption.

It’s about time. The regulatory-approval process started long ago. The first GM salmon was created in 1989, during the first Bush administration. The FDA got involved 17 years ago, during the Clinton administration. As Jon Entine recently pointed out in a detailed investigation for Slate, the online magazine, the Obama administration was ready to issue its approval last year but dragged its feet for political rather than scientific reasons: It wanted to avoid a pre-election controversy.

The good news is that the FDA is finally letting science trump politics. As Entine points out, however, there is much more at stake than the fate of a single food product: “North America has become a dead zone” for investment in genetically enhanced animals, due to the strangling effects of political red tape.

James Murray of the University of California at Davis recently developed a goat that produces milk with a special protein that prevents diarrhea—an advance that could save lives in the developing world, especially among children. Yet as Entine reports, Murray has moved his research to Brazil. “When you don’t have a regulatory pathway forward and the government doesn’t support research in this area, what company will invest in this field?” he asked. “None.”

Traditionally, the United States has led the world in biotechnology regulatory approval. If GM salmon suffers new setbacks, however, we’ll fall further behind—at a time when China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into transgenic animals.

During the comment period, Americans should say they believe in biotechnology and want more of it.

Since the national elections, Washington has focused almost exclusively on debt and taxes. Yet the fiscal cliff isn’t our only challenge: We’re also confronted by a kind of regulatory waterfall, in which the rushing rapids of politics smash great ideas and proven concepts.

GM salmon may survive, despite the long and unnecessary delays. The next innovation may not be so lucky.

Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. Ted and his sons own Rainbow King Lodge on Lake Iliamna, Alaska.  He volunteers as a board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (

Ted Sheely

Ted Sheely

Ted raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, onions, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm. Chairman of Horizon Growers (pistachios). Long-standing interest and investment in water availability and quality. Received Innovative Water Conservation Award. Ted volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.

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