Inside an Indiana aquafarming complex, thousands of salmon eggs grow—faster than normal. The eggs have been genetically modified. They will hatch into tiny fish and then mature more quickly than other farmed or wild salmon. “Genetically modified” means scientists have altered a gene in the organism’s DNA. In this case, the gene affects growth rate.
Once these fish reach about 10 pounds, they will be marketed to restaurants. That could happen as early as 2020.
The salmon are produced by a company called AquaBounty. They are the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the United States. AquaBounty hasn’t yet sold any fish in the United States. But the company is targeting restaurants and university cafeterias for sales soon.
Some consumer advocacy groups call for caution regarding GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. They express concern that changing plant or animal DNA could have health consequences for people who consume them. Biologists working in genetic modification believe those concerns are unfounded. They say GMOs are necessary to feed the world’s growing population. The Genetic Literacy Project states that the world’s population will reach 10 billion by the year 2050. To meet corresponding food needs, agricultural production will need to double worldwide.
Currently, only a few GMO plant food products are sold in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Corn is the most common. But more than three-quarters of the GMO corn produced is used for livestock feed and ethanol for fuel. Soybeans follow closely after. Sugar beets, papaya, and Canadian-grown canola oil come next. The plants have been modified for various reasons: corn and sugar beets to grow larger and faster with a higher sugar content; soybeans to increase edible yield per plant; papaya to fight off a natural virus that kills the plant; and canola to resist chemical pesticide absorption.
AquaBounty’s salmon are modified with the intention of producing more food more quickly. To create the fast-growing salmon, AquaBounty techs injected Atlantic salmon with DNA from other fish species. They chose fish that naturally grow to full size in about 18 months. That’s twice the rate of regular salmon. The company says the process makes fish farming more efficient. Less feed is required as well as less time to produce more food.
The Canadian company worked for years to gain approval to grow and offer its fish in the United States. As AquaBounty acquired that clearance, several grocers including Kroger and Whole Foods vowed never to sell the fish.
The Center for Food Safety is suing the U.S. Food and Drug administration for approving distribution of AquaBounty salmon. Meanwhile, Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest defends the decision. He believes grocers and restaurants should disclose when food products are genetically modified. But he doubts consumers, for the most part, will be concerned.
Agricultural Pioneer Norman Borlaug
Consider an individual’s life aspirations. What comes to mind as most valuable? Obviously, saving souls for eternal life with God would top the list. But after that, where would you rank saving people from starvation?
One man from the previous century is remembered for increasing food production. In 1970, Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize. Borlaug studied plant diseases at the University of Minnesota during the Great Depression. At that time, many Americans were so poor they could not afford enough food to thrive.
World War II closely followed the Depression. It brought farm labor shortages and food rations. World population was still growing, and poor nations faced famine at alarming rates. America, though still recovering from its lean years, took a lead position in finding food solutions for more desperate nations.
It was out of that setting that Norman Borlaug’s ideas for improving farming methods took root. Borlaug proposed enhancing soils using chemical fertilizer. He claimed the same nutrients could be produced far more quickly in a lab than obtained through compost and manure. He explored breeding plant varieties to develop strains that resist diseases and yield greater volume. Modified seeds and modern techniques were shared in countries like Mexico, India, and Pakistan, where famine was averted.
His supporters say that Borlaug’s work saved millions upon millions of lives. For that, they call him a hero. But his critics say the gains were short-sighted. They claim Borlaug’s farming techniques depleted soil over the long term. High-yield plants use more water, which used up supply in drought-prone areas. His methods didn’t predict soil erosion and chemical run-off into essential waterways.
God’s word tells us to “multiply and fill the Earth,” (Genesis 1:28) “take dominion over the Earth,” (Genesis 1:26) and “love one’s neighbor as oneself.” (Matthew 22:39) Accomplishing all of those at once can be challenging. As it turns out, feeding a hungry world will take more than one man’s good ideas.