The Food and Drug Administration will soon approve the marketing of genetically modified salmon. The salmon have a gene that allows them to reach market weight significantly faster than regular salmon, and much controversy exists over the modified salmon. Professor John Matter, associate professor of biology, explains further:
If you had to determine whether genetically modified salmon is safe, what are some of the things that you would look at?
Well, for whom is it safe to eat? Is it safe for wild populations? We have to get beyond the anthropocentric view and consider the impact to wild populations. (In terms of being safe to eat), we have not seen any clear cut negative impacts from genetically modified crops, but I think the bigger question is whether we should be using genetic modification given the chance that what we modify might get into wild populations. I am not sure what the best way to get at it is, but I think we should be cautious because of the ramifications.
Genetically modified corn and soybean have already been approved by the United States for consumption. Is the process for genetically modifying animals significantly different from plants?
No, the process is pretty much the same. I think where we run into trouble is with the potential for escape of those genes into wild populations as has happened with corn. There have been confirmed population affects on butterflies with significant negative consequences.
What happens if the genetically modified salmon gets out into the wild?
They will be grown at rates that are not natural, so they will be eating more aggressively, which could have a definite negative impact on other fish species. If you over-express growth potential, you increase the appetite of the salmon. Even if there is no direct human impact, there could be significant ecological consequences.
Do you think genetic modification of salmon is ethical, and would you eat a genetically modified salmon?
No, I do not think that it is ethical, largely because of the fact that there is such an unknown impact on the environment. Even if it was safe for me to eat, I would not eat it on grounds that it could have an ecological impact. We run the risk of setting a precedent here that is a very slippery slope.
-Aaron Adams ’12, Juniata Online Journalist