GMO Salmon

This weekend's New York Times brought the interesting story of AquaBounty's genetically modified salmon, which are genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as normal Salmon. A few choice bits:
"In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period...was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline...

Appropriately, it has been subjected to rigorous reviews... scientists, including the F.D.A.’s experts, have concluded that the fish is just as safe to eat as conventional salmon and that, raised in isolated tanks, it poses little risk to wild populations.
Why the delay?

... some suspect that political considerations have played a role in drawing the approval process out to tortuous lengths. Many of the members of Congress who oppose the modified fish represent states with strong salmon industries. And some nonprofit groups seem to be opposing the modified salmon reflexively, as part of an agenda to oppose all animal biotechnology, regardless of its safety or potential benefits.

Even the White House might be playing politics with the salmon. “The delay, sources within the government say, came after meetings with the White House, which was debating the political implications of approving the GM salmon, a move likely to infuriate a portion of its base.”
anti-biotech groups, which traffic in scare tactics rather than science...
This story brings three thoughts to mind.

1. So who is "anti-science?" I can't resist. There were a lot of potshots at Republicans for being anti-science, some well-deserved. But "science" is abundantly clear here. "Science" is indeed wrong at times, but if we want policy based on "science," the safety of GMO foods is about as good as it gets. There's plenty of magical thinking on both left and right, it turns out.

2.  $10,000 dollars invested in the stock market in 1993 is worth $50,000 today ($31,477 after inflation)  yes, even after the crash. It was already worth $37,600 ($32,700 after inflation) in 1999.  Remember, AcquaBounty hasn't sold a single fish. The cost of 20 years delay is enormous, amounting to a huge tax disincentive.

3. We need growth. Where does growth come from? Modern growth theory is abundantly clear. New ideas, new processes, new businesses that raise productivity. Like a new idea that lets us double the growth rate of farmed salmon. And, yes, lower profits of current salmon fishermen, much to the relief of wild salmon.

GMO foods are, potentially, a huge game changer. Once every 50 years or so, we bump up against a Malthusian limit, and a new idea frees us again. Fixing airborne nitrogen. Green revolution. Now, GMO foods. GMO plants are being bred to use less fertilizer and insecticide, i.e. to be better for the environment, as well as to cure vitamin A deficiency, produce less waste, and so on. No, dear Greenpeace, organic farming is not the answer, unless we use a lot more land for agriculture, starve out half the people, or believe in magic.  (It's too bad organizations like this suffer such mission creep. I would happily support their efforts on behalf of endangered species.)

Or maybe not. The lesson of industrial policy is that academic bloggers are just as bad as government bureaucrats in finding the next game changer. But there are hundreds of similar game-changers underway. Read any popular science magazine. Will we let the winners bear fruit?

Why do countries and civilizations fail? When interests vested in the status quo or magical thinking stop that process.  A long decay precedes the crises. I am reminded of the famous failures, such as the Chinese Emperor's ban on long-range shipping, at a time when Chinese ships were way better than Portugese.

Update: A very nice article by Henry Miller on GM foods, titled "Anti-Genetic Engineering Activism: Why the Bastards Never Quit." Henry is obviously much more knowledgeable than I am.

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