The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed regulations that will allow genetically modified fish and animals to land on our dinner plates. Genetic engineering (GE) already culminates in higher yielding and disease resistant crops like corn and cotton. This decision marks the fist time modified animals, however, will be cleared for human consumption.
Salmon is first on the agenda, as AquaBounty in Waltham, Massachusetts seeks approval for a Franken-fish that will reach market size in 16-18 months instead of the norm of 3 years. The cross between a Pacific Chinook and an Atlantic Salmon will produce growth hormones all year long. Salmon usually stop growing during the colder months. Also in the works is an enviro-pig that will excrete low phosphorous manure and a mad-cow resistant bovine. As of this writing GE animals don’t have to be labeled, raising the issue of our right to knowingly consume GE animals or not.
Tinkering with our food source is not a new thing. Eighty per cent of feedlot cattle are injected with synthetic growth hormone, prompting calves to grow from 80 to1400 pounds in 14 months. Dairy cows in 1950 produced 5300 pounds of milk a year; today a typical cow given rBGH hormone produces 18,000 pounds. Monsanto Company has developed a seed corn that is insect and weed resistant. This corn is fed to cattle that are sent to market; the meat is purchased from our grocery coolers and ultimately ends up in our bodies. Not to be outdone, nature is inventing strains of weeds and plant diseases that by-pass Monsanto’s efforts.
Concerns of GE foods and plants are many. It is believed that they disrupt human hormone balance, cause developmental problems in children, interfere with reproductive systems and lead to higher rates of breast, prostate and colon cancer. Of primary concern is the younger age of puberty for girls, thought to be a direct outcome of artificial hormonal influx.
There is also the concern of forever altering genetic diversity. According to a study at Purdue University, if just 60 transgenic fish escaped into the sea and bred, the original species would be extinct within 40 generations. Promises of containment and assurances against escape are profuse. But if the BP Gulf oil catastrophe has taught us anything it is not to trust promises of those chasing profit at the expense of the environment. Cost-saving short cuts are taken; accidents happen.
What is most troublesome about Franken-fish and the GE animals to follow, however, is the issue of animals yanked from their evolutionary chain. Species develop within an intricate context of environment, seasonal cycles and surrounding life forms. The earth is a fascinating matrix of checks and balances that reinforce the rituals of reproduction. A specific wasp, for instance, evolves to pollinate one plant and one plant only on the Sonoran desert. Species continuation is the most powerful of biological and spiritual life force drives.
GE creations are outside of spiritual reach; a break with the rituals that have evolved to celebrate and give thanks for, say, the salmon that return after several years at sea to their the fresh water streams where they were hatched. In the midst of their miraculous journey they select a mate. In unbelievable spectacle, thousands of salmon back up at the entrance of their home streams where the fish pair up and face upstream. The female salmon wiggles a dimple in shallow waters for her eggs and the male ejects clouds of milt to fertilize. Then, they die, creating food source for the seen (countless bald eagles that line the streams in wait) and unseen (bacterial nutrition for underwater life forms.
When we eat we digest more than calories. We take in the earth and sea from whence it came and the rituals embedded in their life cycle. From the myriad festivals and rituals that mark the salmon returns of Alaska to the internationally renowned corn dance on the Kewa Pueblo in Santo Domingo, New Mexico…food source has long taken sacred place in the lives of humans. GE foods are a vital break from source, catapulting humans even further from our place in the food chain, wreaking physical, environmental and spiritual havoc.
Know your food. Chew long, swallow gently. Give thanks.