Latest update: 21/07/2010
- Fishing - food safety - GM - Paris - pollution
Genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as the natural kind could soon be given the FDA stamp of approval for human consumption in the US, but the Frankenfish is not whetting everyone’s appetite. Meanwhile, sounding the alarm over the Seine: authorities say fish swimming in the French capitals river should not be eaten. But what happens further down stream when this river enters the sea?
By Eve IRVINE
It's summertime, fish are jumping, and so are some scientists in the US who are excited that their genetically modified salmon may soon make it to your dinner table. Growing at twice the normal rate, the company producing the GM salmon, Aquabounty, says it’s safe both for man and his environment but, already nicknamed Frankenfish, its clear that not everyone agrees.
Acquabounty technology has cut the fish’s growth period from three years to just over one and a half. Normally salmon do not make growth hormones in winter, but genetic modification can change all that. Taking a gene from Chinook salmon plus a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like distant relative of the salmon, they have produced a fish that grows all year round.
"The genes introduced make every tissue in the fish produce growth hormones...and so it grows much much faster than it would naturally," explains Marc Vandeputte, researcher with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.
The company claims that their product is a solution to dwindling fish stocks and will ensure food supplies to an ever growing world population. Environmentalists warn however that care must be taken to ensure that the genetically modified variety doesn’t slip into the sea and corrupt the natural kind.
The fish should only be farmed inland to keep it from escaping into the sea and be made up exclusively of sterile salmon, an attempt to ensure that no modified variety will mix with the natural kind. "The worry is that if the GM fish was close to the natural variety and could reproduce with it...then you could see it take over and wipe the other out..," warns Mr Vandeputte.
A potential problem for biodiversity without, this expert says, any major advantage. Most of the world’s salmon come from seabed fish farms in Norway. Given that farmers pick the best of the bunch to reproduce the following year’s catch - in the years that they have been farmed - Norwegian salmon have increased in size.
Aquabounty have been fighting for FDA approval for almost a decade already and despite critics' claims they still hope that this autumn they will be given the green light to move to the next step of production.
Meanwhile after over 100 years of absence, salmon have made their way back to the Seine in Paris. Their return is seen as a sign that the problem of pollution in the river was receding, but authorities are now warning against eating anything swimming in the French capital's waters and even further downstream, noting that chemicals and pesticides continue to contaminate.
For men fishing on the banks of the Seine in the city, fishing is just a pastime and they would no longer think of eating their catch. "We catch fish in the Seine for pleasure, not to eat them. Thirty or forty years ago, of course we did eat them," notes Christian Chollet, of the Paris fisherman’s union.
But far from the city, as the river moves through Normandy towards the sea, eels, bream, carp and mullet were traditionally caught from the Seine - but health authorities have now banned these too. "Really, we have fish here that have 20 or 30 times the amount of toxins allowed for human consumption in their bodie s- even a hundred times the amount, depending on the species of fish and the place we find them," says Guillaume Llorca of the WWF.
The guilty polluter - pesticide PCB, which runs off local farmland, forms sediments in the river and makes its way into the fish food chain. "Eels and bream are worst affected- they're fat fish that live in the sediments, so it's in those species that we find the highest concentrations of PCB," notes Remy Filali, Director of Normandy waterworks.
French farmers used a million tonnes of PCB before it was banned in 1987. Thirteen years later, it's still contaminating waters, sardine fishing is banned at the mouth of the Seine, mackerel, herring and sea bass are also in danger. Indeed scientists are only starting to gauge the extent of the pollution. Several studies are trying to work out just how much PCB is enough to pose a danger to humans.
And its not just fish that pose a potential problem. Fruit and vegetables can also contain more than just vitamins and goodness. Some strawberries have been through an average of 12 chemical treatments on the journey from the field to your fork and the same is true for grapes, celery, pears or peppers. In France, more than half of the fruit and vegetables eaten carry chemical residues.
Pesticides, fertilisers, hormones and antibiotics are all used in food production. Then fruit and vegetables are treated: washed, bleached, peeled, diced, preserved and cooked: all processes that generate chemicals.