June 17, 2014
Farmed Salmon And The Frankenfish
As far as eating goes, there is absolutely no comparison beween fresh, wild salmon and its poor relation from the factory fish farm. But enough people love salmon and believe in its supposed health giving properties that salmon farming is now a huge global industry. The health conscious among us look to oily fish to provide essential nutrients like Omega 3 and there is no doubt that salmon is a great source. Most of us cannot get or don’t want to pay for the wild fish, so the only choice is the mass produced version. To meet the demand, fish farmers around the world are producing more and more. Between 2011 and 2012, they churned out 90 million tons of the stuff, more than the 80 million tons caught by traditional wild fisheries.
Like many people, I want to feel that farmed salmon, and other farmed fish, is safe to eat, but there are big doubts on that score. The other issue many have with fish farming is the animal welfare aspect. Things have improved a lot, but intensive salmon farming with overcrowded pens, disease, and the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other additives gave the product a bad name. Indeed, back in 2005, the US National Institutes of Health found that eating farmed salmon raised the risk of contracting cancer to the extent that they warned that fish from Northern European farms should only be eaten once every five months, while that from North and South America should be consumed no more than 0.4 times a month. The problem was high levels of contaminants from the farming process. These included dioxins, PCB’s, and other chlorinated pesticides, which are not the best cocktail for a healthy body. More bad press arrived recently in the UK with reports of DDT being found in farmed Norwegian salmon on sale in some our biggest supermarket chains.
A lot of progress has been made with less intensive farming, reduced use of chemicals and medications, and better practices all round. One neat example is the novel use of a different fish species, the wrasse, which is being introduced into salmon pens to feed on the sea lice that plague the farmed fish. This cuts down massively on the use of chemicals to kill the lice. But as yet there is no such thing as organic salmon. There probably never will be.
Now a new concern has been added to the debate. It looks like a plan to produce Genetically Engineered Salmon, dubbed by opponents the “Frankenfish,” will go ahead after gaining tacit approval from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This new breed is a Chinook salmon with altered chromosomes and with added genes from a cold water eel species. The new super-salmon will produce year round growth hormones and put weight on at twice the normal rate. There has been fierce opposition. Environmentalists naturally argue that the genetically modified fish could escape and interbreed with wild stocks. AquaBounty, the company aiming to produce them, claim there is no danger of this as their stock will be sterilized. Arguments rage on both sides and a lawsuit has been filed by Ecology Action Center and Living Oceans Society in an attempt to stop or delay the plans.
With wild fish stocks in decline and global demand for food growing exponentially, there will be many more “Frankenfish” episodes to follow. It’s a new battleground for mankind — ethics vs. survival.
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