When I was rambunctious kid, my mother always told me it was more effective to get someone’s attention with a whisper than a shout. Earlier this month, Mark Lynas, the well-known anti-GMO activist, got everyone’s attention by changing his long-held position on genetically-modified foods. But he didn’t scream it from the rooftops or otherwise perform a media-grabbing stunt like his famous pie-throwing incident. He calmly, thoughtfully, and yet forcefully explained in front of an academic audience in London how he had come to this change of heart.
In short, Lynas maintained he “had discovered science”. Over the course of an hour, he minced no words while eviscerating what he called the anti-science NGO community that has long opposed the development and deployment of GE crops – and of which Lynas was a leading figure for over a decade. The foundation of his argument was that there is now a scientific consensus that there are no health effects of genetically-engineered crops and after 3 trillion meals eaten with no demonstrable evidence of harm, “the GMO debate is over”. While many have countered Lynas’ treatise, there remain a host of unanswered questions about the environmental risks of GE animals – especially fish – should this technology proliferate beyond plants. Scientific consensus has not yet emerged and it is needed if a skeptical public is to accept GE fish.
If you missed the Food and Drug Administration’s controversial ruling during the holidays – to recommend approval of an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon as the first-ever, genetically engineered animal allowed for human consumption – you aren’t the only one.
It came as a surprise to conservationists, media and policymakers alike, and the ruling opened a surprisingly short public comment period that closes on February 25.
Thankfully, seven U.S. senators are standing up for the ocean and for healthy, sustainable seafood by sending a letter to FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg today requesting a 60-day extension to the public comment period. The senators rightly believe that the public deserves more time to adequately review and comment on the FDA’s lengthy, yet intentionally narrow, report that will have far-reaching implications for the future of fish and the health of the seafood on our plates and in our ocean.
Ocean Conservancy commends the strong stance taken by Senators Begich and Murkowski of Alaska, Senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington State, Senators Wyden and Merkley of Oregon, and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
Just as I was getting ready to head out for my Christmas break last week, my email Inbox signals that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its recommendation to approve the first-ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption. For those who track the FDA, they know this isn’t unusual – the agency often makes controversial rulings right before the holidays, when decision makers, media and the public are trying to have some well-deserved downtime with their families. It was a kind of an unwelcome, fishy Christmas surprise, nestled among the garland and mistletoe.
My latest piece for National Geographic explains just how dangerous this recommendation is and what Congress needs to do in the new year to make sure these controversial fish do not make it to the ocean. The U.S. is simply not equipped to deal with this scenario.