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GM Salmon Debate About More Than Just Fish

By Ross Pomeroy

There has been a lot of talk about salmon recently. In case you haven’t heard, the conversation revolves around an amendment approved to the agricultural appropriations bill which prohibits funding for Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically modified salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies, a private company based in Massachusetts.

The principal concern of activists who supported the amendment was that the genetically modified salmon would escape their holding pens and interbreed with wild populations. At first glance, this seems to be a valid argument. The genetically modified salmon grow much faster than natural breeds and could potentially overtake wild populations if they make it into the ecosystem. It was largely due to this argument and the small amount of facts available when the story first broke, that I reserved judgement on this matter.

But last week, in an article by Ron Bailey, Reason weighed in.

As it happens AquaBounty’s fish are not bigger; they just grow faster. In any case, recent research [PDF] has found that genetically modified fish are actually at a selective disadvantage to wild fish. Similarly, another recent study reported that genetically modified coho salmon fared badly against wild ones when it comes to reproduction.

 

To make the risk even lower, AquaBounty salmon are sterile triploids, that is, instead of having the usual two sets of chromosomes, their fish have three sets. In addition, the company has devised a process that make essentially all of their fish females, so there are no males available to supply sperm even if the fish were fertile. Finally, the company plans to raise their biotech salmon in freshwater tanks in Panama. Panama has no salmon, and if the fish escape into the tropical waters they will die from the heat.

OK, the second paragraph does sound a little like Jurassic Park (we all know what happened there), but genetically modified salmon are not dinosaurs; and this is real life, not a movie.

As Alex Berezow, editor of Real Clear Science, wrote earlier in the week, this debate truly comes down to “votes and money.” The elected officials who co-sponsored the amendment all come from states with huge stocks of wild salmon and large fishing industries. Ideology reigned supreme.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Why should I care? What’s the big deal about a fish?”

This isn’t just about fish. This is much bigger than fish.

Over the past few years, politics and science have become more and more entwined. The blame doesn’t belong to one side or the other; activists from both ends of the partisan spectrum have infused their dogmatic political beliefs into a realm where they truly do not belong. Look at what has happened to climate change. Once thought to be consensus, the issue has now become so divisive that it’s on the same level as moral issues such as gay marriage or abortion. Climate change, like those topics, is just one of those things that you don’t bring up, unless you’re ready for a fight.

The only remedy is a return to reason. When it comes to science, ideas should reign, NOT ideology.

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

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