Scientists at DuPont have genetically modified a yeast to produce a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, essential to human health and previously available in meaningful quantity only from marine sources. In other words, they can create in the lab something that, up until now, we’ve had to harvest wild fish to obtain.
A necessary nutrient. A limited source. A growing population. If we can grow EPA and DHA in the lab without having to catch any fish at all, isn’t that a boon for mankind?
That’s the question I asked some of the environmental and advocacy organizations that have generally opposed the genetically modified foods already in our food supply, including Food and Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Their concerns were primarily, although not exclusively, about safety. “We’ve read all the marketing material,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. “We have some agreement about the state of the forage fisheries and the need to reduce wild fish oil and fish meal,” the two components that small forage fish are processed into for supplements or animal feed, “but this is starting to feel similar to other PR for biotech crops.”
Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, is more optimistic: “I think we have to be open-minded about this. It does seem to deal with the constraint we have in sustainable fisheries.” His concern is the ecological footprint.
There’s a lot here that reasonable people can agree on. Yes, we need the regulatory apparatus to evaluate food safety that includes scenarios in which novel organisms get out into the environment. Yes, when we evaluate a lab-based solution we have to take into account everything that goes into it and comes out of it. Several people I interviewed mentioned labeling, and I’m on board there, too. Consumers should know both that this product was made with genetically modified yeast and that no fish were harvested in the process.
The obvious question for any consumer deciding about this is: Do you think it’s safe? But a different question might be more revealing: Do you want it to be safe? Does the fact that it’s genetically modified make you root against it, even though it could fill an important gap between our population’s growing health needs and our planet’s limited natural resources?
Read the full, original article: Unearthed: Can this GMO save our oceans?