Our Editorial: FDA right to approve ‘frankenfish’

The Detroit News

The left prides itself on its allegiance to science — until it bumps against its own superstitions and political agenda. Take, for example, genetically modified salmon, which got the Obama administration’s stamp of approval last week.

The Food and Drug Administration OK’d AquaAdvantage salmon, a captivity-raised fish that grows twice as fast as wild salmon and could help meet the world’s growing food demands and ease pressure on fisheries.

Critics have dubbed the AquaAdvantage salmon as “Frankenfish” and for five years successfully pressured the administration to withhold approval.

That the FDA finally weighed in on the side of sound science is to its credit.

While consumer and wildlife groups have raised all sorts of hysterical alarms about the fish — that it will cause human allergies, that it may escape into oceans and destroy the natural salmon population — the FDA dismissed those concerns as not supported by evidence.

The FDA determined the fish was safe to eat, and that the genetic modifications to stimulate faster growth are not harmful to either the fish or the humans who consume it. In taste, texture and appearance, the genetically modified fish are not different than wild salmon, according to FDA testimony. Because there are no material differences between wild and modified salmon, no special labeling will be required by the agency.

The FDA also dealt with concerns that the larger fish could escape and compete with the native population for food and mates, saying multiple layers of safeguards at the production sites in Panama and Canada should prevent accidental releases. Scientists also dismissed the danger to wild salmon should an escape occur.

In fact, some experts testified that replacing wild salmon on menus with the genetically modified fish could benefit the wild salmon populations by easing overfishing pressures. About a third of the world’s fisheries are under stress.

Many of the same groups opposed to the modified fish are also urging a reduction in harvests of wild salmon and other species. If they have it both ways, the world will experience a shortage of a valuable and nutritional food source. With the FDA approval settled, opponents are now turning to retailers, urging them to keep the modified salmon off their shelves. Some have complied.

Responsible genetic modification of fish and livestock has the potential to solve a number of problems in food production. Animals that grow larger while eating less would make more grain available for humans. Rice, wheat and corn that thrive in arid conditions could make famines a thing of the past. Golden Rice, enriched to deliver nutrients third-world children are often missing, could improve nutrition and save young lives.

Research is also underway to produce pigs whose manure is less polluting. And yet all these game-changing developments are under attack by those who have turned “organic” into an obsession.

The reality is that most modern food plants and livestock are the product of grafting, selective breeding and other human-directed modification.

Embracing the latest scientific breakthroughs as a means to end hunger and relieve stress on the earth is a natural extension of that ancient process.