My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
A story today on the BBC website about genetically modified salmon caught my eye – and I ended up writing a letter to the BBC with the hope that it reaches the reporter Katia Moskvitvch.The story was explaining that GM salmon are about to be approved and will be in our supermarkets soon after that. The story was typical of such technology stories that are almost always uncritically positive. (Read the story here.)
My Email to the BBC:
It’s unfortunate that Katia Moskvitch’s story on GM salmon failed to ask the more elemental but essential questions, and instead was typically wowed by the technology.
The most important question that is never asked – what’s the point? No doubt GM salmon will make a lot of money for a few people but at the risk of unforeseen and potentially catastrophic consequences to wild fish stocks for which the public and Nature will have to pay the costs.
That the GM salmon are sterile means nothing in nature – as just a little research would show (species capable of becoming whichever gender is lacking in a population etc).
Do the GM Salmon convert feed to flesh at a lower ratio than non GM, which typically need 4 to 5 kilograms of feed to grow 1 kilogram of flesh? If the conversion ratio is no better, where is the advantage? Fish farmers may be able to turn over their tanks more times in a year, and make more money, but there is no increase in food efficiency.
Farmed salmon are fed wild fish at the rate, as I say, of about 4-5 kilos to 1. So GM Salmon and farmed salmon do nothing to increase global food supplies. If we want to do that we should eat the feed fish directly.
While it is fascinating to see these developments are taking place, it would be doing your readers a greater service if technology reporters were a little more skeptical and a lot less laudatory.
As the world’s human population heads towards 9+ billion people within the next 40 years, there are real questions to be asked about IF so many people can be adequately fed – especially when already so much food is consumed by so few people. It’s possible that genetically modified foods may play a necessary part in that, though personally I’m deeply skeptical of the hype and promises – remember nuclear power was going to be “too cheap to meter”. Instead we have Fukushima.
If GMOs are going to be used, we need to get answers to basic questions. Who ultimately pays when things go wrong? What PUBLIC good is accomplished at the risk of potential catastrophes? It seems to be an unconvenient truth fast being forgotten that human beings are as embedded, dependent and part of Nature now as we have ever been. Nothing is more important than the health of Nature. You can live without Facebook indefinitely, but try living without clean water for more than 3 days.