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  • GM Salmon: Swimming Against the Regulatory Tide

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering whether to approve for human consumption a genetically modified (GM) salmon that holds promise for satisfying the growing demand for seafood and to allow wild stocks to revive. The science on “transgenics” is firmly on the side of approval. The more pressing debate—largely a consequence of unwarranted regulation—centers on product labeling. Fortunately, that’s rather simple to remedy.

    The AquAdvantage salmon, which grows twice as fast as its farm-raised cousin, was bred with a Chinook salmon gene for a hormone that accelerates growth in the first year. Genetic material from an ocean pout, an eel-like species, was also introduced to keep the growth hormone active throughout the year.

    If approved, the fast-growing fish would become the first animal to join a variety of GM plant products in the food supply—none of which has produced a single adverse health effect. The FDA staff has concluded that the fish is safe for both humans and the environment. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of carping about “Frankenfood” from the usual quarters, and critics are demanding package labels to warn consumers that the fish is a product of bioengineering.

    That’s contrary to FDA practice, however. The agency currently prohibits labeling based solely on the means of production. Only products that are “materially different” than the non-altered variety are required to carry a label. That’s based on the notion that a label distinguishing between GM and non-GM products would be perceived as a “warning” that bioengineering is not as safe as conventional breeding methods.

    Proponents of labeling contend that the lack of a label violates a consumer’s “right” not to purchase transgenic food. Indeed, there’s no shortage of folks who are captive to the fear-mongering of biotech’s enemies.

    The solution is obvious. Rather than force labeling on the AquAdvantage salmon (or any other product of bioengineering), the food industry ought to be free to advertise to customers—by label or any other means—how their product is produced. Food manufacturers will soon discover whether a label hurts or hinders sales. Ultimately, consumers will drive labeling decisions, which is only rational given that they are the targets.

    The crux of the problem, of course, is the FDA’s excessive control of labeling. What consumers infer by the presence or absence of a label should not be the purview of the federal government. It’s one thing for the FDA to protect consumers from fraud, but it’s quite another to dictate whether true claims can or cannot appear on packaging.

    As it is, Americans are besieged by a record number of regulations that cost the economy tens of billions of dollars—and erode both free enterprise and individual liberty. It’s long past time that food manufacturers are allowed to label their products according to consumer preference rather than bureaucratic whim. As Lao Tzu advises: “Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish: Don’t overdo it.”

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to GM Salmon: Swimming Against the Regulatory Tide

    1. Chris, Sillicon Vall says:

      As the son of life long liberals, having always been told the virtues of big government, I must say that this is a very compelling argument. Thank you.

    2. Vicki, Phoenix Arizo says:

      As a conservative, I must say I disagree. Regarding Genetically Modified foods the public should be made aware of the results of testing, where and how the food that we are consuming is produced. I do not think that the general population should be the testing ground for laboratory foods unaware. Why should these producers be allowed a free pass with no discernable accountability? Diclose and label, then the free market can decide for itself.

    3. pearl says:

      People who believe in individual rights and the dignity of the human person could never advocate surreptitiously replacing a natural food with a "genetically modified" equivalent. I don't particularly care what testing is done. I only want to know if the genetic material has been tampered with. Should this salmon be approved by the FDA and go on the market unlabeled, I will stop eating salmon. There can be no question that the purveyors of this are dishonest or they would not be trying to hide the facts from the consumer.

      While it is true that the same end is served by allowing natural salmon to carry a label to identify it, this article doesn't insist on the point, which ought to be primary to the entire debate.

      Frankly, I question the position of the Heritage Foundation on this issue which seems to indicate a corporatist mentality at the expense of citizens' rights. Good to know.

    4. patrick, earth says:

      Pearl, you have been eating genetically modified food your entire life – how do you think farmers have gotten CORN the way it is now? – just because it was not done in a "lab" does not mean its not the same thing…

      Pearl, you have a right to grow ALL of your own food – you have a right to not participate in any bartering with any person or business. You have a right to ask the business for more details before you purchase. BUT please STOP forcing everyone else to jump thru extra hoops for you legislatively when there is no benefit other than your irrational thought process.

      I see it this way, contact the 'Salmon' company and ask if its genetically modified before you purchase – extra work for you, yes.. but then, where does it state you dont have a responsibility to ask questions if you want superfluous information? You already have asked that there be an overbearing agency (the FDA) and now you want to substitute your whim for their ruling? How interesting — again, as I see it, you want the extra superfluous information, you ask for it from the company…

      In short, stop being so lazy (in thought and action).

    5. Joe,OBX says:


      I think you miss the point. This article is not endorsing the secret (I believe the word you used was "surreptitiously") replacement of natural salmon with the GM salmon. There will always be natural salmon and they can (and I'm sure will) label it as natural.

      The point of the article is that the the companies should NOT be required to do additional labeling for many things, and for a number of good reasons (including the costs of involuntary labeling and the implication that the GM salmon is somehow inferior/hazardous/etc. Do not worry that your natural salmon will go unlabeled for long. Even with the products being virtually identical, the farmers of natural salmon will voluntarily go for the labeling so they can sell their product at a premium. (The same happens already with something as simple as hormone supplementation in cows to produce milk and in chickens.)

      The position of the Heritage Foundation is, I think, to maintain the laws preventing fraud and lying in labeling, then let the market take care of the rest. With demand like yours, natural will get so labeled without the onerous labeling as GM (which would potentially negatively affect sales by creating an otherwise false impression about the GM salmon. Additional stringency in labeling will hurt the manufacturer, the product, and the consumer. The existence of some kind of 'Natural' label will tell consumers that there is an 'unnatural' alternative and any product without the 'natural' label may be GM.

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