Biologically engineered plants and animals are a subject area that gets me into severe disagreements with my more liberal friends. I don’t see it as a big deal, in fact we have been doing it for centuries. We cross-pollenated plants to improve crops and cross-bred dogs for herding and hunting. But when technology is involved, meaning altering DNA using test tubes and computers, people just lose their shit. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a blog item on Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other grocers refusing to stock genetically engineered salmon.
A coalition of environmental and consumer groups announced Wednesday that they have secured promises from several U.S. grocery chains that they will not carry the fish. These include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and PCC Natural Markets in Washington state. Most of the biggest supermarket chains are not participating.
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The salmon would be the first transgenic animal to enter the food supply. Obama administration has given preliminary approval and extended the public comment period until April 26.
First, let’s dispense with the labeling issue. Foods should be labeled, including information disclosing if they’ve been genetically manipulated. People have a right to know what they’re eating. Companies fighting labeling laws have gotten bad advice, not only because they will eventually lose, but because they are delaying wide acceptance of these foods once people realize they have no ill effects on health (even though mountains of data have already proven this to be the case).
What gets my goat is that these stores are rushing to deny consumers a product which could save wild salmon while also reducing the amount of resources used to meet our growing demand for fish. It reminds me of the unhinged people in California who try to take down wind farms because they kill birds. Yes, they do kill some birds, but what is the alternative? Would you like us to build more dams? More nuclear power plants? How about more solar, oh wait that endangers turtles in the desert.
On a related but different subject, let me say that I also have a problem with companies patenting DNA segments or suing farmers who happen to have GMO seeds blown into their fields. Innovators should be allowed to profit from their inventions but not to the extent that they become the owners of the natural world. For example, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. In this case Myriad Genetics sued to defend their exclusive right to a diagnostic test for breast and ovarian cancer (I shouldn’t omit that they allowed others to use their discovery for research). The courts have so far agreed with Myriad Genetics. Under this ruling, once a marker in your DNA has been found for a particular disease, a company could preclude anyone else from developing a test for it. What if someone comes up with a better test? What if their test is flawed? What if the patent owner decides to charge extremely large sums of money?
So let’s fight ownership of the natural world but let people buy GMO products if they want.