Food Fights

By Keith Kloor | December 22, 2012 7:08 am

Get ready for another wave of anti-GMO mania. This one is about to rise up with the news that genetically modified salmon are on the verge of being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There is quite an interesting backstory to this development, which Jon Entine revealed at Slate several days ago. The short version is that regulatory hurdles had already been cleared last April, after completion of an environmental review. But then the White House stepped in and apparently blocked the approval.

That final hurdle has now been lifted. What comes next is the outpouring of predictable GMO hysteria (frankenfish!), such as that already being exhibited by Grist. No doubt, this will owe to GM-salmon being the first transgenic animal cleared for dinner plates.

For as the Washington Post observes, the move reignites

a long-running debate over whether a nation that already grows and consumes genetically modified plants such as corn and soybeans is prepared to make a similar leap when it comes to animals.

Food-safety activists, environmental groups and traditional salmon fishing industries are staunchly opposed to such a step and are part of a broader global struggle over the use of genetically modified foods.

On a related note, let me share a quick personal anecdote. Last month, my wife and I had dinner at the home of another couple in Brooklyn (where we live). These are dear friends who, like my wife, are foodies. They are wonderful hosts who always dazzle us with gourmet recipes. The four of us have similar politics and values, so conversation is almost always agreeable.

On this night, though, I briefly became the skunk at the party because I mentioned a recent Slate piece of mine that was about the food movement’s embrace of anti-GMO lunacy. I should have known better. Our friends, it turns out, have deep concerns about the safety of genetically modified foods. The conversation got a little heated and then a little whacky when the 7th grade daughter of our friends joined in with this: “But what about the fish tomato? We learned about it last year it in class.”

Now, some of you are probably wondering: What is the fish tomato? And others, familiar with that story, are probably wondering: How in the hell is that being taught in school?

I can only answer the first question and really, to save us all time, just go herehere,  here.

The point being, is that the fish tomato story (dating to the early 1990s) serves as an apt reminder of how misinformation, rumors, and hyped fears (whipped up by activists) all congealed into the first real anti-GMO feeding frenzy.

With the latest news on genetically grown salmon nearing FDA approval, the discourse on GMO foods is about to rev up. The signal to noise ratio will disappoint those of us who would like rational conversation on this issue.

As it happens, my wife and I are meeting our foodie friends for dinner tonight (this time at a restaurant). I may order the salmon as a conversation starter.

File:"Fish is a Fighting Food We Need More" - NARA - 513819.tif

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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