On most farms I think it's a safe bet that practicality wins over idealism 99% of the time. On our family farm, as a child it was no exception. I remember picking and squishing potato bugs (and hating it) but I also remember that when the bugs got too bad, shaking the burlap bag of ambiguous white powder onto the plants with the careful instructions, "Don't put your hands in your mouth." "Clean yourself up when you're done." So when a magical, mystical variety of potato came along that repelled bugs, who was first in line!? I don't really remember much about planting, digging or eating them because it just wasn't a big deal. "GMO" didn't mean much then and if it meant not having to worry about potato bugs in the garden, what could possibly be bad about it?
Or what about all these "RoundUp Ready" soybeans and canola? If it means less pesticides overall, shouldn't we be embracing them instead of rejecting them?
And since it's been pretty well established that the world is going to be facing a serious food shortage in the future, doesn't it make sense to produce a fish that grows twice as fast in half the time?
This is where practicality takes a backseat to harsh reality.
Genetic modification is new and although every 'new product' is backed by 'scientific evidence', there simply hasn't been enough time or enough studies done to truly know the long term effect of GM products on ourselves or our environment. Everyone has heard the arguments against GMO's, so I won't reiterate them, but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight two greater problems related to Genetic engineering, whether you care about what's in your food or not.
1)seed saving. This simple and since-the-beginning-of-time practice carried out by every farmer of the past (and some of the present) is being threatened on a daily basis. It doesn't attract the kind of public attention that many other international trade policy points do, but Canada's farmers ability to save their own seed is actually on the table as a negotiating factor in agricultural trade. This means that we would no longer be allowed to save a section of our best soybean seed from one year to plant the next. This means we would have to buy new seed from a certified dealer every year. And in some cases, we do buy new seed. New seed certainly has it's benefits. But if we are required to show receipts for our seed prior to selling any product, to prove that we didn't save our own seed, it takes away a fundamental right and a major economic savings for farmers. I could rant about the importance of saving seed, but the point of this is that GMO products directly affect that seed saving ability and in the case of these fish, reproduction of any kind (they are 99% sterile.)
The reproduction of all living things is a natural and necessary element of survival. 'Survival of the fittest' doesn't even apply, if one cannot reproduce as a species. Sure you might eat better and grow faster (or in the case of soybeans, grow well and yield consistently), but if you can out-eat all the fish that CAN reproduce, what does that leave them to eat, over the long term?
2)Labeling. To keep this short and simple; if GMO's are not a problem and the science exists to prove it, why don't we have labeling that allows consumers to make their own choices. The EU has established rules regarding GMO labeling and thresholds and I am frustrated that none of our governments have forced the hand of the food production companies here in North America. As eaters, it is a basic human right to know where our food comes from, if we care enough to look. As it sits today, there is no way to find out that your beloved Heinz ketchup or 99% of the cooking oil (canola) in your cupboard, or those super easy Campbell's soups or some delicious microwave popcorn all come from or contain significant amounts of genetically engineered organisms. It might not stop you from eating any of that stuff (or it might), but wouldn't you like to have the choice?
You can Google GMO's until you turn into a three headed frog and you will find lots of studies (some legit, some questionable) as to the long term effects of genetic engineering on our world. The truth is, nobody really knows the long term effects. But we know the short term problems and as informed consumers, it's our job to push for regulations, whether we think that GM's are a benefit to society or not.
I can't stand alarmists and hyperbole, but this seems to be an issue that is quickly slipping from our grasp. Once this door is open, it can never be closed, so lets make sure we want to answer it.
ps. one way to be sure to avoid GMO's is to eat organic. The first principle of organic production (COP 1.4.1) is "when producing or handling organic products, it is forbidden to use any of the following substances or techniques: a) all materials and products produced from genetic engineering as these are not compatible with the organic principles and therefore are not accepted under this standard.'