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On Franken Fish and the Meaning of Human Evolution

by Mira Fong
www.moondesert.com

"The way humans readily project their emotions and intentions into some animals and not others is itself a cause for concern. Few people have much fellow feeling for fish even though many fish are long lived, have complicated nervous system and are capable of learning complicated tasks."

                 Patrick Bateson, professor of Ethology, University of Cambridge

The advisory board of the Food and Drug Administration held meetings in September 2010, concerning the approval of genetic modified salmon (known as Franken fish) developed by the Aqua Bounty Company. According to news reports, the only concern the FDA had was the possible  allergic reaction of some population by ingesting such products. The adverse effects of consuming G.E. animals have long been a health controversy.  So far, no government agency and no scientific study can rule out the long term effects from ingesting such experimental animal.  If approved after further studies, the Franken fish could be sold within two years from fish factory farms to super markets. There was also the issue of labeling such animal since the GE industries have been fighting against the labeling law in order to protect their interests. Without informed labeling of a genetic modified product, the public will have no idea of what they are consuming.                                                                                                                                                      

The Public Say No

The biotechnology of recombining genes from different animals and plants, in order to change their biological function and features for utility purposes, is a crime against nature. It is, in every sense, anti-life and anti-evolution, a practice is driven by profitability. The earth in which we inhabit is achieved through the experiential process of evolution over billions of years. There is absolutely no evidence that nature would favor the interest of one species over billion others, but the trans-genetic technology is reshaping life by altering the structure of genetic material in living organism.

Although the current debates are mainly evolved around the safety issues of consuming genetic modified food products, my argument is that the eventual approval of such food would have no validity since no one is certain of its harmful impacts on humans, animals and overall environmental risks. The public must exercise scrutiny because both the consumers and the animals are being made into lab guinea pigs.  

Salmon are wild animals and live in the open sea. They do not belong to laboratories, nor to be confined in overcrowded and filthy tanks saturated with chemicals and antibiotics. The serious controversies over the transgenic salmon have generated strong objections from consumers, environmental and animal welfare groups. The American Anti-Vivisection Society and Farm Sanctuary had submitted a protest letter to the FDA, signed by 14 animal protection organizations that represent millions of supporters.  According to a poll taken by CNN on Dec. 24, 2010, at least 45% of the people would not buy the Franken salmon.

What is Franken Fish?

It is a deformed, genetically modified fish reared in intensive aquaculture system. Its rapid growth is boosted by a recombinant technique-the adding of a growth gene from the pacific Chinook salmon and a gene from the ocean pout. The fish grows twice as faster than its wild relatives due to the presence of the recombined DNA in cells throughout the fish body.  

                          

                            Frankenfish, the big one in the back                credit :The N.Y. Times

 

 

As proprietor of the patented salmon, the company is able to capitalize the fish markets and have the exclusive right to create, own and sell eggs to fish farmers. The question is: How could a 'for profit only company' be allowed to manipulate or destroy an integral part of nature? The Franken fish created in the laboratory, by definition, is a sick animal being inflicted with a manmade disease by altering its physiological functions. Since the fish are created by sick science, they must be confined and isolated in tanks just like sick patients in hospital wards, so to prevent the contamination of the healthy others. Can we allow such sick practice?  

Many food products created by bio-technology have already become part of our diet including wheat, rice, soy beans, corns, chickens and milk. So far no transgenic animal has ever been approved for human consumption in the US. The approval of transgenic fish will open the flood gate for more inbred science to experiment on other animals. In fact, a pig is being developed in Canada called Enviro pig, whose manure is less polluting and genetic modified cows do not produce methane in their flatulence. The applications for the approval of both genetically manipulated animals are already next in line. There is no limit as to what the biotechnology can do to exploit other sentient beings since they have absolutely no ethical consideration for the wellbeing of animals. 

As for our own health, no one can be certain that the animal we consume with mixed DNA and hormones could pose collective risks to our own biological integrity in the long run. It is up to mother Nature to decide the proper working of things. No one knows how would Nature respond to the problems created by biotechnology and the consequences can be quite scary than we could ever imagine.  

The creation of transgenic fish also poses threat to the environment. There is no guarantee of the containment of the biotech salmon. It is likely that some will escape to the wild. The mixing of transgenic fish with native salmon species poses biological and genetic risks and demise on the wild salmon. The fish will compete with wild salmon for habitat, thus pushing them to collapse as the normal salmon lose their traits necessary for survival. The result is the disruption of natural selection and co-habitation. The escaped genetic modified salmon from fish farms can infiltrate wild salmon population and cause irreversible chaos of the living network. Even  genetic scientists cannot be certain of its effects on the environment, and when it does happen, there will be no remedy as the consequences are irreversible. To be precise, this is fundamentally a moral question: do we have rights to alter the way of nature and to treat non-humans as commodities?

We also need to consider that as human population explodes, reaching 9 billion by 2050, it seems reasonable to downsize the number rather than boosting its growth by producing more bio-tech food. Ethics must be the guide for medical and scientific research. The company that developed the Franken salmon claims that this new animal product would help the world to meet the rising demand for seafood and as means to fight world hunger. The truth is that there is no shortage of food, the problem of hunger is caused by unfair and uneven food distribution. The simple equation is that the higher density of human carnivores would force to raise more animals in factory farms including Franken fish, and vice versa, leading to a vicious cycles of irreversible destruction of the environment which hastens species extinction. The chilling consequences of genetic modified products goes far beyond the mere concern of food safety.

Fish Do Feel Pain, Confirmed by Leading Scientists

The genetic engineered salmon grow four times faster than the normal ones and conceivably they can suffer from internal chaos and discomfort from metabolic and neuromuscular disorders. With the rapid and abnormal weight gain, the fish can no longer swim efficiently (salmon are born to migrate in great distance ). In addition, they are raised in inland aqua- factory farms located hundreds of miles away from the ocean-their natural habitat. Salmon are confined in high density which creates social problems for the fish (similar to human overpopulation problem which causes social chaos). A crowded salmon farm contains as much as 50,000 in one single enclosure! They suffer from infection, parasites, debilitating injuries and other diseases from living in polluted water. And yet, most people think that fish do not feel pain.   

Although the fishing industries argue that fish lack brain complexity to feel pain, but such assumption has been met with strong refutations from scientific communities:  In 2003, Edinburgh University researchers confirmed that the rainbow trout has poly-nociceptors around its face and head with nervous system to detect painful stimuli, which means fish can definitely feel pain. Dr. John Baker, an Oxford University Zoologist, contends that lobsters (can live up to 100 years) show extreme pain and trauma response when being boiled alive. Dr. Lynne Sneddon, a physiologist at the Liverpool University, also concludes that fish can feel pain based on her research findings that fish has at least 58 pain receptors along the lips; fish responds to pain by displaying abnormal behavior such as shaking or twisting its body; it's not just a simple reflex.

Janicke Nordgreen, a doctoral student at the Norwegian School of Veterinary, through her studies of salmon, gold fish and rainbow trout, she observed that fish are capable of conscious perceptions such as fear, wariness and anxiety; the anticipation of pain is just like vertebrate animals-in contrast to the common misconception that fish's response to pain is only a reflex.  In other words, we can no longer pretend that there are no ethical consequences from fishing-either for recreational (catch and release) or commercial purposes. 

In April 2010, Oxford University Press published a book Do Fish Feel Pain by Dr. Victoria Braithwaite, a renowned biologist. The book presents ample  evidence that challenges the stereotyped view that fish are not sentient and have no brain or feelings. On the contrary, Dr. Braithwaite proclaimed that fish are far smarter and cognitively competent and have nerve fibers to detect tissue injury. Like birds and mammals, fish can suffer from stress, discomfort and pain, physiologically and psychologically (so as lobster, crab and shellfish, so please be kind).  

Fish express pain through convulsive movements such as flapping, thrashing and gasping. The sight of buckets of fish piled on the deck left to suffocate is a sure sign of suffering. In the case of Franken salmon, the chaotic hormonal effects on the fish's internal system put great stress on their bodies. Salmon belongs to the vast open sea, not to be subjected to a debilitating existence.

Salmon's Amazing Journey

The life cycle of salmon is one of the most amazing wonders of mother Nature. Young salmon must make their epic journey, to migrate from mountain creeks and follow the downstream into the open sea. Before entering the ocean, their bodies undergo changes to adapt from fresh water to sea water. The adult salmon spend about four to seven years in the ocean. But eventually, the elder ones must make the home bound journey. They must swim against the currents to return to the exact river where they were born. They often travel as far as one thousand mile, a treacherous adventure as salmon must jump thru raging waterfalls and swim upstream.

               

Salmon have long term memories, they remember the smell of the river of their birthplace. By October, both the elder male and female would fast as they head back to the river. Salmon's home coming also means the completion of their life cycle. The female lay her eggs in shallow scrapes in the river bed with her chosen mate to fertilize them. 95% of all adults will die afterwards. Those that have survived will return to the sea. The male, whose body has turned bright color, would remain by his partner to protects the eggs until the female dies.

                     

After the rite of procreation, the male and female salmon, both lie lifeless  in the water while the next generation of salmon flourish, they live on the nutrients from the decomposed bodies of their parents, thus begin a new cycle of life. Salmon's demonstration of self-sacrifice makes the fish a truly noble and marvelous animal!                 

The salmon's journey reflects the inner working of mother Nature. All animals have the innate ability to smell and hear Nature's calling, the bees and flowers, the seasons and migrating birds and the salmon's upstream journey to complete their evolutionary mission, they all co-exist in unison; from forests to volcanoes, rivers to sky, insects to salmon, each tunes into a bio-synchronicity except the homo sapiens.

A Lonely and Self-Alienated Species

Compare to a salmon's memory, humans seem to have lost theirs-the original habitat and the purpose of an earth journey. Instead, we have  violated the natural law by relying on destructive technologies and unsustainable economic policies and by messing the genes of plants and animals. We have become a transitional species moving from its organic habitat to a virtual reality; a self-alienated animal takes pride in re-ordering the nature of things.  

Like an unruly child, we push nature's movable bodies (the wild animals) out of sight and yet, domesticate peace loving and defenseless animals for food including artificially altered ones. In turn, the homo sapiens have become a useless species and must create its own environment outside the working order of the bio-system.  Just like the lab invented salmon, we ourselves have become a hybrid between an animal and a machine dependent creature.

What is the Purpose of Human Evolution?

Genetic technology invents sick animals by violating the law of life, the bio-logic. Our bio-centric relation with mother Nature has been replaced by a human centered view. Is it because we have lost the early memories of our ancestors, a time when human apes were a continuum of fellow animal beings? Instead, we  created a hostile demarcation between us and them. But is this feasible? All species and their habitats are inseparable, both are an integral part of a larger community, humans are no exception. The journey of wild salmon can serve as a reminder of our own origination.

Our ability to create and to reason is part of the higher function of the new brain which sits right above an older one, the reptilian brain. The neo-cortex carries a specific evolutionary mission, that is, to develop moral sensibility as well as to monitor and quell the old reptilian aggression, the will to power. Without being guided by a moral awareness, the human ape will resort to its predatory behavior, obsessed with domination (as we can clearly see in the history of wars and current environmental crisis); the  mentality of "might is right" is capable of destroying its own benefactor, the mother Earth. This explains my rationale that humans have no choice but must evolve further, morally and spiritually for the sake of our own survival and that of the planet. Animal and environmental protection are human protection.

When human interest clashes with that of the environment and non-human animals, the conflict must be resolved according to an Earth Ethics since Nature is independent of man's value judgment. Valuing means the ordering of one's priority is based on ethical consideration (do no harm to others) and to inform one's decision making. In short, one's action reflects a moral choice. Humans should observe nature's criterion as basis for valuing; a criterion requires all species to behave in a reciprocal manner. Although most people would like to think that humans are the supreme, and would argue from a utilitarian interest, but we simply can't afford an environmental outage.

The acquiring of a new brain during human evolution is not just for inventing tools or machines, it gives us the ability to reason and to care, a mind capable of discriminating between right and wrong (although the definition of absolute right or wrong has been a debate among contemporary philosophers, but inflicting suffering on a sentient being is obviously wrong), between justice and exploitation, kindness and brutality, selfishness and altruism, cooperation and domination. Most of all, the purpose of human intelligence is to recognize our humble place within the larger scheme of things. The purpose of human evolution is to evolve from a tree dwelling primate (a vegetarian) into an upright walking ape and must further evolve into a morally autonomous being, a process of overcoming our base nature. As for the for-profit-only  agribusiness, they need a change of heart.

References:

1. B.E Rollin, The Frankenstein Thing: The moral impact of genetic        

    engineering of agriculture animals in society and future science.

2. Ethical Issues in Biotechnology. Edited by Richard Sherlock and John D.  

    Morrey

3. Salmon, An Epic Journey, Planet Science

4. What is Pain to a Fish? Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati

5. Mikko Alanne, Should Fish Have Rights? Huffington Post, Jan 4, 2011

6. Under Water Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain, Harvey Black, Scientific  

     America



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