Empire Editorial: Salmon horror story

  • Friday, November 20, 2015 1:03am
  • Opinion

You sit back in your cinema seat and grab your popcorn.

The lights go down and the show begins. A giant wooden door appears on the screen and slowly creaks open to reveal a figure of horror — the scaly, wide-eyed face of a salmon.

Alaskans scream in terror.

We take pride in our fish and their value to a healthy seafood industry, but Thursday’s FDA approval of a genetically engineered salmon threatens that pride.

The AquaBounty AquAdvantage salmon — patented and trademarked — is an Atlantic salmon that incorporates a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout that keeps the gene producing growth hormones constantly instead of seasonally. As a result, the fish grows to market size in half the time of a wild fish.

The engineered fish are scheduled to be produced in Panama, from eggs raised in Canada.

The problem for Alaskans is that there may be no way for consumers to distinguish between wild salmon on store shelves and this engineered cousin. The federal government does not require the labeling of engineered food, and in fact the U.S. House has passed a bill that prohibits states from mandating such labeling. (The bill faces tougher opposition in the Senate).

Without proper labeling, the market for wild Alaska salmon is in real trouble.

A 2013 New York Times poll found three-quarters of Americans said they would not eat modified fish, and 93 percent said all food containing modified ingredients should be labeled.

It’s important to note that these concerns, while widespread, are groundless. Engineered plants have been widely used for decades, and you probably have engineered food in your pantry or fridge right now.

Groundless fear is still fear, however, and unless we ensure that consumers are informed, they will avoid what they fear.

People avoiding engineered salmon will avoid all salmon, including that caught in Alaska, unless they can clearly differentiate. Even then, it will be a tall order for marketers, including the Alaska Salmon Marketing Institute, to spread word of the difference.

Engineered salmon aren’t likely to land on store shelves soon — the Center for Food Safety and other organizations have promised a lawsuit — and so we hope Congress will have time to act and pass a firm labeling law before the first engineered scale touches water.

Without that kind of law, the horror won’t be on the screen. It’ll be in the empty harbors of Alaska’s seafood ports.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Next month Alaskans will participate in the second open primary under the… Continue reading

(City and Borough of Juneau photo)
My Turn: ‘Ship-free Saturdays’ will nullify progress made toward controlling cruise ship impacts

Alaska’s wildness and communities are what draw people to this incredible part… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: School board recalls a vote of no-confidence?

While four previous columns in the Empire have expressed concerns about efforts… Continue reading

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday. The court granted an unprecedented expansion of executive power, worrying the country’s allies. (Tierney L. Cross/The New York Times)
Opinion: A gift-wrapped Supreme Court decision for Republicans

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan gave us another example of his… Continue reading

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the original U.S. Constitutional Convention took place. (Antonie Taveneaux / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Opinion: Let’s celebrate our country this Fourth of July

On July 4, 1776, a year after the outbreak of the American… Continue reading

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

It’s been two months since Alaska Landmine published leaked emails that suggest… Continue reading

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

“Now more than ever, we need real conservative leadership in Washington to… Continue reading

A person departs Bartlett Regional Hospital on July 26, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The importance of a strong, independent community hospital

Juneau’s city-owned Bartlett Regional Hospital (BRH) is in the news, presenting our… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Disappointed by JAHC director’s opposition to Ship-Free Saturdays

As a member of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, I was… Continue reading