Over the past several weeks, the US Department of Agriculture approved more genetically-engineered (GE) foods:
- Alfalfa (which becomes hay and then food for animals that becomes food for humans)
- Corn (specifically a type of corn to produce ethanol)
- Sugar Beets
Additionally, there are reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to allow the first genetically-modified (GM) animal to be sold as food: a fast-growing salmon.
Regardless of the reported potential benefits, the possible environmental and health hazards of this historically unprecedented widespread experiment could have disastrous consequences. Says New York Times reporter Mark Bittman: “…when ethanol corn cross-pollinates feed corn, the results could degrade the feed corn; when G.E. alfalfa cross-pollinates organic alfalfa, that alfalfa is no longer organic; if a G.E. salmon egg is fertilized by a wild salmon, or a transgenic fish escapes into the wild and breeds with a wild fish … it’s not clear what will happen.”
While the FDA refers to the salmon as a “new animal drug” I propose that it more aptly warrants the title “FrankenSalmon.” Using the FDA’s self-created loophole, by classifying FrankenSalmon as a “new animal drug,” it allowed the advisory committee that evaluated the salmon’s safety to be made up primarily of veterinarians and animal scientists, not food safety experts or ecologists.
More shocking news about FrankenSalmon on page 2…
And, perhaps equally shocking, the FDA relied on data from the company that produces the FrankenSalmon to determine its safety for human consumption. Does this make sense to anyone other than FDA staff? Allowing the company that stands to profit from the GM salmon to provide the safety data is a conflict of interest and corrupt.
Still worse, any organizations selling the salmon, beets, corn, or alfalfa will not require the labeling of these genetically-modified foods. While the USDA and FDA don’t think we deserve the right to choose what we put into our bodies, I think we require this basic freedom. And, a New York Times/CBS poll showed that 87% of people agree and want GM-foods labeled.
Bittman indicates that alfalfa cross-breeding is guaranteed and likely with corn as well. When that happens, it could spell huge losses to the organic dairy industry since many dairy cows eat dried alfalfa hay. Alfalfa contamination means that the milk or meat of cows that eat it will no longer be organic.
As for the FrankenSalmon, AquaBounty, the creator of this so-called food, claims that it isn’t possible for the GM-salmon to cross with wild salmon, but others don’t agree. And, their financial interests make it difficult to accept their word at face-value. If FrankenSalmon is approved, the floodgates are open for new, experimental mutant foods. Who knows the implications of this scary, but likely, scenario? Only time will tell.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, PhD, RNCP, ROHP