A week ago animals have received more horrible news.
After years of discussions and delays, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the production, sale, and consumption of genetically modified Salmon, the first transgenic animal approved as food.
Fish farming, usually euphemized as aquaculture, is already the most rapidly growing agricultural industry with almost 10% average growth rate per year in the last four decades (2015 was the first time the consumption of factory farmed fishes exceeded the one of caught fishes), and it is about to get worse.
A fish exploitation expansion company from Massachusetts called AquaBounty, engineered salmon who grows much faster by adding a growth hormone regulating gene from another type of salmon. In addition to being much faster, the growth would also be year-round, as a result of another gene added from an ocean pout.
The genetically modified salmon reaches “market size” in 18 months instead of 3 years. It can mean that the same number of fishes would suffer half of the time, but it would most probably mean that the number of exploited fishes would be doubled. That is what happened in the chicken industry, and it keeps growing every year.
Another modification which would increase consumption is that these Salmons require about 20% less feed than any other farmed salmon, what will further reduce costs and hence reduce the price for the consumer, meaning more humans would consume more salmons.
Although growing in a frantic rate, the industry can potentially increase much more. Currently most of it is basically cages set in the sea (net-pen farms). The fear of violent storms, predators, harmful algal blooms, transmission of pathogens and parasites from other fishes in the open water that would rapidly kill the entire extremely dense flock, and the fear that some salmon would escape their cages and damage the ecosystem, are considered as set backs (relatively of course) of the industry.
The industry’s solution to both fears is to take the fishes completely out of the ocean and imprison them inland inside tanks. This is already implemented in small scale due to the high costs of this operation. Now that the costs can be significantly reduced, as a result of the accelerated growth of the transgenic salmon, it would also increase the number of the highly intensive inland farms.
Given that the ecological threat imposed by a genetically modified fishes is even greater (fearing that the genetically modified species would outcompete the wild ones to the point of extinction, usually called Trojan Gene Effect) the incentive for inland intensive farms is also greater, since they prevent the fishes from escaping their cages into the ocean.
Apart from making the entire system more efficient and thus bigger, genetic engineering would also make the lives of every individual in factory farms even more horrible. Already intensive farming pushes animals to their physiological limits, and now the approved technology of reconstructing their DNA for “higher performance” would further intensify it.
Increasing growth via the manipulation of animal’s genetic code can lead to crippling results. The transgenic salmons suffer from deformities, feeding and breathing difficulties, reduced swimming abilities and lower resistance to diseases.
Once the FDA has approved one transgenic species the precedent would act as an incentive for other companies to develop others. The same American company is already working on other fish species, and other companies have also filed applications with the FDA for approval of other genetically engineered animals. Various researches are conducted in other countries, China for example has launched an $800 million public-private investment into transgenic animals, and genetically modified animals are being developed in India, New Zealand, and across Latin America.
This horrible development is another example of how political decisions such as the Chinese’s government to abandon its one child policy for example, which we wrote about in the former post, and technological “advances” are much more significant in terms of animals’ suffering than the movement’s efforts.
Despite what might seem as a strengthening of the movement in the last couple of years, along with the much greater increase in the number of consumers and the much greater increase in the consumption of each consumer (which by far exceeds the increase in the number of vegans and in the consumption of vegan products by none vegans), internal changes in the industry also make the world a worse place all the time.
While the movement fails to stop selective breeding among current exploited species, genetic engineering is already here creating new ones.