Brave New Food So Safe It’s Not Even Labeled

Almost every issue that food activists care about—unlabeled, dangerous ingredients and drug traces; crowded, polluted farms that harm workers and the environment; Agribiz cornering the food supply and destroying family farms; and animal suffering—is magnified when genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) animals are added into the equation.

Concerned that there are antibiotics or antibiotic-resistant germs in your food? With GM and GE animal products, you’re actually eating altered genes. Worried about what crowded, manure-and drug-polluted farms do to workers, animals and the environment? GM and GE animals permit even greater densities or “production efficiencies” as biotech farmers call it. That’s why they’re done.

Concerned about ag giants and chemical companies squeezing family farmers and poor nations out of existence through patents and robber-baron laws? Every mouthful of a GM and GE animal is “owned” by a corporation.

Horrified to see dairy cows forklifted to slaughter because they are too weak to walk? The point of animal biotech is to get more money’s worth out of each animal “unit,” at the price of higher culls, mortality and animals too weak to walk.

Many people are aware of genetically engineered or modified crops like Roundup Ready Soybeans, Bt-corn, and Golden Rice which Big Food does not want labeled. (Who would buy them?) Biotech companies claim such GMO crops are “green” because they reduce herbicide and fertilizer use. The truth is just the opposite. GMO crops increase the use of herbicides and fertilizers and oxygen-depleted dead zones in oceans. The only thing green is the money Biotech makes.

(People are less aware of animals that have been genetically modified for non-food human use like the transgenic goat with a human gene that has been patented by GTC Biotherapeutics to produce a blood-clotting drug. Goats given a spider gene also exist to produce material to be spun into textile fibers. Aren’t animals great?)

Get Ready to Eat GM Salmon

Since the public largely rejected milk made from Monsanto’s genetically modified rBGH designed to get more milk out of each cow (created from inserting the DNA sequence for a cow’s natural growth hormone into the DNA of E. coli) chemical and biotech companies and Big Food nervously watched the fate of the AquAdvantage salmon.

Instead of reaching its full size in three years, the AquAdvantage salmon, created by AquaBounty, is ready for dinner plates in just eighteen months, cutting production costs in half. Ka-ching. It was created by inserting the coding sequence from a Chinook salmon growth-hormone gene under the control of an “antifreeze protein promoter and terminator” from ocean pout into wild Atlantic salmon. It was quickly dubbed a Frankenfish by critics.

Biotech and Big Food needn’t have worried. The AquAdvantage was approved by the FDA in 2015 despite:

* high incidences of “jaw erosion” and “focal inflammation” (infection) in the            fish cited in government and AquaBounty’s briefing materials

* the admission in briefing materials that excessive culling of “abnormal”       salmon made it impossible to determine if the fish posed greater allergy           risks

* a possible “increase in the level of IGF-1,” insulin-like growth factor-1, in     the fish, cited in briefing materials

It is already being sold in Canada.

Like biotech companies, AquAdvantage salmon promoters played the green card. Even though AquaBounty will grow eggs in Canada and ship them in plastic coolers to Panama to grow the adults out, AquAdvantage salmon promoters actually said the fish had a reduced  “carbon footprint.”  Why? Because grow-out is closer to “domestic population centers” and water densities will be increased to “80 to 100” fish per cubic meter.  They also played the feed-the-world humanitarian card, like Elanco’s Frankenfood apologism campaign called Sensible Table (“How We’ll Feed The World.”)

There is a final irony to the AquAdvantage salmon. Many people eat salmon because of its desirable omega-3 oil which experts say is compromised in AquAdvantage salmon. According to Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, “in terms of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, GE salmon fare worse than wild fish and slightly worse than farmed salmon.”

Still, there is some good news. If the AquAdvantage salmon survives an FDA lawsuit  by environmental groups and fishing organizations and heads toward U.S. dinner tables, some stores will not comply. Walmart, Albertsons, Target, Ahold and Delhaize America are among stores that have said they will not sell the product.  Even though the FDA does not hear U.S. food consumers, apparently some grocery chains do.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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