Frankenfish


With the new FDA ruling concerning the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods in the news, there is a great deal of misinformation being spread. Of course the internet is just the place to spread pet theories and scare tactics like dandelion fluff on a windy summer day. In my reading I have come across people who claim that claim that the “frankenfish” will 1) grow until it explodes because of puffer fish genes; 2) grow to three times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon 3) Is evil because the research was funded by Monsanto or 4) Is unnatural and shouldn’t be trusted.

My favorite photo from these credulous people is here

Let’s start by analyzing the claims one by one. 1) The fish will grow until it explodes because of puffer fish genes. This is one I got from my Mom who claims she heard it on network news. First, puffer fish don’t explode. In reality these fish inflate themselves by taking water into their stomach. Part 2 of this myth can be corrected here This New York Times article explains that the Atlantic salmon gene was combined with a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic on-switch from a distant relative of the salmon, the Ocean Pout. So, no puffer fish gene.

Number 2: The GM salmon will grow to three times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon.

Nope. The growth pattern is accelerated during the early part of the fish’s development. It stops growing when it gets to the same size of slightly larger than a normal Atlantic salmon. The growth time is cut from 3 years to maturity to 16-18 months. CNN showed a side by side analysis of the two types of fish. The GM fish had slightly better looking meat, being just a bit more red and the fish was, perhaps an inch longer. From a subjective view, a very normal looking salmon.

Number 3: This is evil because the research was funded by Monsanto. The corporation had a bad reputation in the early years because of its involvement in the development of saccharine and Agent Orange, Along with that it had an extremely poor environmental record it has since cleaned up. There is also no evidence that I was able to find that Monsanto funded the research done by AquaBounty Technologies If anyone can verify or eliminate this, I would appreciate the input.

Number 4: This is unnatural and not to be trusted

People have been purposefully cross breeding animals to bring out different traits in a species for hundreds of years. It is a widely accepted process in agriculture to splice two types of plants together to create a stronger stock. This is more involved and pretty scary for those who either don’t understand or haven’t done the research. Unfortunately, according to my aforementioned mother, I have “drunk the kool-aide”. I’m not saying that the meat shouldn’t be tested. It HAS been tested. This project has been seeking approval from the FDA for over 10 years. That implies that testing has been done.

It’s fish. It hasn’t ever been anything else. It’s basically a cross breed of fish that grows faster than normal but stops when it should and doesn’t blow up.

Did you know that this is NOT the first GM fish? We have available to us as pets, beautiful little creatures infused with a phosphorescent gene called GloFish and thanks to that bit of gene slicing, they glow in the dark.

So, to recap, the “Frankenfish is a crossbreed of three salmonids that grows to maturity in half the time. It has been engineered to be sterile in case someone decides to release one into the wild. It has been in testing and development for over 10 years and it’s not going to explode.

I’m not saying that we should all go blithely about and eat foods that haven’t endured testing. By all means our food SHOULD be safe. What I’m saying is that the evidence suggests that the undue panic people are showing is unwarranted. If there comes a point where it IS warranted you can bet I’ll be here writing about it. That’s the great thing about science. We examine the evidence at hand and draw our conclusions from that evidence.

So while we’re waiting for new evidence, someone serve me up a Frankenfish filet and some GM veggies.

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