by Mira Fong
The advisory board of the Food and Drug Administration held meetings in September 2010, regarding 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 cause of allergic reaction in some population. If approved after further studies, the Franken fish could be sold within two years from fish farms to super markets. There was also the issue of labeling such animal since the GE industries have been fighting the labeling law in order to protect their interests. Without proper labeling of a genetic modified product, the public will have no idea of what they are consuming.
Credit: Photo from Eatocracy.cnn.com
The Public Say No
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 by the FDA provides no validity over the whole issue: the destructive consequences of genetic engineering on plants and animals. The FDA have no means nor experience to assess the potential risks and its harmful impacts on humans, non-humans and the environment.
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, anti-evolution and anti-ethics. 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 our species over others, but the trans-genetic technology is reshaping life by altering the structure of genetic material in living organism. It is an unfair and unjust practice mainly driven by profitability.
And there is another ethical implication, that is both the consumers and the animals are being made into lab guinea pigs by the multibillion dollar agribusiness, and they are making huge profit from both. It is in this context that the public must exercise scrutiny.
Salmon are wild animals, they do not belong to laboratories, nor to be confined in crowded prison farms. The serious controversies over the GMO salmon have generated strong objections from consumers, environmental groups, animal welfare groups and fishing industries. 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 poles taken by CNN on Dec. 24, 2010, at least 45% of the people would NOT eat the GMO salmon.
What is Franken fish?
It is a deformed trans-genetic 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.
In order for the company to control its intellectual property, the fish animals are made sterile (one more vice to monopolize their profits). 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 big question is: How could a for profit company be allowed to manipulate or destroy a piece of nature?
The Franken fish created in the laboratory, by definition, is a sick animals. It is an animal being inflicted with manmade diseases 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 cruel practice?
The Health Controversy
The adverse effects of consuming GE animals has long been a health controversy. No government agencies and no scientific studies can rule out the long term medical consequences from ingesting such food since Nature works much slower than the digestion of an experimental animal. One thing we do know is that the higher hormone level in farmed animals have been linked to higher cancer risks. What if somewhere down the line, say 20 years after consuming GE products such as the Franken fish or Enviro pigs (another GE animal), we may wake up one day with fins on our back and an engorged belly like a pig.
Many GE food items have already become part of our diet including wheat, rice, soy beans, corns, chickens and milk. Perhaps the Franken fish may soon become a fast food. But so far, no GE animal has ever been approved for human consumption in the US. The approval of trans-genetic 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 GE modified cows do not produce methane in their flatulence. The applications for both GE animals are the next in line, seeking approval by the FDA. There is no limit as to what the GE technology can do to exploit other sentient beings.
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 nature to decide the order of things and the way nature tries to fix problems caused by GE tech may be more scary than we can ever imagine.
The creation of G.E. 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 sterile genetic 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 and cause extinction as the normal salmon lose their traits necessary for survival. The result is the disruption of natural selection and co-habitation.
The escape of genetic modified salmon means irreversible chaos for the living network. Even the genetic scientists cannot be certain of its effects on the environment, and when it does happen, there will be no cure as the consequences are irreversible.
Nature operates on a grand scale beyond scientific knowledge, it is a mystery. Its vast operation of sustaining every single life on earth cannot be reduced to mere economic values. The moral question we need to address here is that: do humans have rights to alter the way of nature and to treat non-humans as commodities and lab tools?
A Simple Equation
As human population explodes, it seems rational and necessary 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 (see my footnote on further reading). The company, Aqua Bounty, that developed the Franken fish 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 there is no shortage of food, the problem of hunger is caused by unfair and uneven distribution of food.
The simple equation is that the higher density of human carnivores forces to raise more animals in factory farms including GE modified ones, and vice versa. Both are involved in a vicious cycles of irreversible destruction of the environment, which can hasten species extinction. We need to realize that the issue of genetic modified products goes far beyond the concern of food safety.
The Intensive Farming of Franken Fish
The GE salmon grow four times faster than the normal ones and conceivably they can suffer from chronic hormonal imbalance. With the bulging weight, the fish can no longer swim normally as they were built to migrate in great distance.
The Franken fish are raised in inland aqua farms located hundreds of miles away from the ocean-their natural habitat. In intensive fish farming, the salmon are confined in high density which creates social problems for the animals (the same as in human over population which has caused social chaos, such as increasing crime rates). A crowded salmon farm contains as much as 50,000 in one single enclosure. They are being kept in concentrations and packed tightly, many suffer from infection, parasites, debilitating injuries and other diseases and spend their entire life in polluted water.
All animals can suffer pain and can anticipate danger including fish. This is obvious just by observation. It is a misconception that fish respond to pain is only a reflex. Such callous assumption has been refuted in recent research. In April 2020, Oxford University Press published a book Do Fish Feel Pain by Dr. Victoria Braithwaite, a renowned biologist, in it she presents new evidence that challenges the stereotyped view that fish are not sentient and have no brain. Her research concludes that fish are far smarter and more cognitively competent than we suspected and they can suffer pain both physiologically and psychologically (so as lobster, crab and shellfish...and please be kind to them) like birds and mammals, have similar nerve fibers to detect tissue injury and pain. Fish express their pain by convulsive movements such as flapping, thrashing, twitching and gasping. The sight of buckets of fish piled on the deck or in live markets left to suffocate are sure signs of suffering.
In the case of trans-genetic salmon, the hormonal effects on the fish's internal organs and structure, and with rapid weight gain, put great stress on their bodies, making them more susceptible to diseases as well as interfering their ability to evolve. Salmon are wildlife belong to the vast open sea, they should not be subjected to a debilitating existence. Genetic engineering on animals poses serious ethical problem as it has no regard for their well being.
An Amazing Journey
The life of salmon is one of the most amazing wonder of nature. The adult salmon migrate from their birth place, creeks or rivers, and follow the down streams into the open sea. During the migration, their bodies undergo changes in order to adapt from fresh water to sea water. The salmon spend years in the ocean but eventually they must make the home bound journey. They swim against the currents in order to return to the exact river where they were born, a journey is often treacherous as salmon must jump thru raging waterfalls and swim upstream for hundreds of miles.
Salmon have long term memories, they remember the smell of the river of their birthplace. Both the male and female would fast during the difficult journey. Their home coming also means the completion of their cycle of birth and death. At the birth place, the male protect the eggs until the female died. They lie still in the water and die while the next generation of salmon is coming into being. This rite of procreation and self-sacrifice, by making room and food for their offspring with a voluntary death, makes the salmon a saintly animal!
The salmon's journey reflects the inner working of mother nature. All animals can smell and hear her 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 salmon's memory, humans seem to have lost theirs-of the original habitat and the purpose of an earth journey. Instead, we have found ways to bypass by inventing technologies-free ways, airports, oil drilling and a virtual world. As a self-alienated species, we begin to re-order the nature of things...
Like an unruly child, we push nature's movable bodies (the wild animals) out of sight and domesticate other tamed animals for food including artificially altered ones. In turn, humans have become a useless species and must create its own laws and values outside the working order of a bio-system. like the Franken fish, being alienated from the sea, we ourselves have become a hybrid between an animal and a machine.
What is Our Relations to Nature ?
Genetic technology invents sick animals by redesigning their biology, violating the rule of life: the bio-logic. GE is a science has disassociated itself from the organic relations of life. The beauty of nature has been the inspiration for poets and artists, can we appreciate the wonderful sights of wild animals, at the same time support an ill science that can destroy such wonder?
Our bio-centric relations with mother nature have been replaced by a human centered ethics and also by the pursue of economic benefit. 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 have created a hostile demarcation between us and them. But is this feasible? All species and their habitats are inseparable, both are the integral parts of a larger community. Humans are no exception. The journey of wild salmon can be a reminder of our own deep past, when humans were equal with other wildlife.
What is The Purpose of Human Evolution?
Our unique ability to create and to reason is part of the higher function of our 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 intelligence and sensibility, as well as to monitor and quell the old reptilian instinct-the will to power. Without being guided by a moral intelligence, the human ape will resort to its predatory mind which is obsessed with domination (as we can clearly see in the history of wars and current environmental crisis), a mentality of might is right, capable of destroying its own benefactor, the mother earth. This support my rationale that humans have no choice but to evolve further, morally and spiritually, for the sake of our survival and the planet. In this sense, animal and environmental protection is human protection.
When human interest clashes with that of the environment and wildlife, the conflict must be resolved in respect to an earth ethics, as nature is independent from a manmade value. Valuing means the ordering of one's priority and ethics (do no harm to others) is based on such order of values to inform one's decision making. In short, every action we take reflects a moral choice.
Being self-aware and intelligent, humans are able to observe the nature's criterion in which we base our value judgment; 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 motif, but we simply can't afford an environmental outage!
Therefore, the acquiring of a new brain during human evolution is not just for inventing tools and machines, it gives us the ability to reason and to care, a mind can discriminate between right and wrong (although the definition of absolute right or wrong or eternal truth is a debatable among contemporary philosophers, but torturing a sentient being is obviously wrong), between justice and slavery, kindness and brutality, selfishness and altruism, cooperation and domination, as all lives must evolve as a whole like team players. I truly think this is the meaning of human evolution, from a tree dwelling primates to an upright walking apes and further evolved into a morally autonomous being. As for the greedy agribusiness, they need a change of heart.
December 25, 2010
Further Reading: The Frankenstein Thing: The moral impact of genetic engineering of agriculture animals in society and future science. By B.E Rollin, professor of philosophy, animal science and biomedical science.