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Point of View: A call for complete transparency, full disclosure

“Genetic engineering is genetic engineering, whether it is conducted upon the final product or incorporated into a component of that product (feed or otherwise).” - photo courtesy of Black Pearl Seafood LLC
By Dick Martin
June 01, 2013

Having read the recently published Point of View in the March 2013 edition of SeaFood Business, it would be appropriate to respond by calling for complete transparency and full disclosure throughout our industry.

No one can argue with the need for better utilization of all fishery resources, preservation of marine ecosystems and the need for greater efficiency in the conservation of biological capital. The question should be, what is the best way forward? 

From vessels capturing the pelagic base for feed production, to the growers casting the pellets into the sea, everyone has a role to play yet the means must be considered carefully.

Should the industry approach this using natural resources and methods or should we embrace the shortcuts represented in high-tech genetic manipulation? Every aquatic feed producer is working to address that question.  The industry has made significant changes in aquatic feed production without sci-fi, genetic hocus-pocus.

Over the past year the aquatic feed industry has drastically reduced its dependency on fishmeal/fish oil by as much as 30 percent without sacrificing omega-3 fatty acid content and doing so organically.

This has been accomplished by sourcing lipids from vegetable sources (e.g. rapeseed oil) that produce omega-3s naturally. The industry has also expanded workable and efficient recycling programs that retrieve fish trimmings from human food production and turn them back into fish feed; a vital and environmentally sound practice.

Governments have contributed by banning discards that are either bycatch or not typically utilized in human food processing and are cycled back into fish feed.

Start-ups are developing insect culture at scale to create sustainable, natural sources of protein to replace aquatic sources. These industries and recycling programs combine to create new, natural sources of feed for aquatic species; this is the natural way forward.      

Even with these advances fishery proteins continue to be wasted as pet food, as lawn fertilizers, in cosmetic production and the worst, as fuel extenders. Few people know that the majority of fishmeal/oil is still used in poultry and swine production, which are poor converters and fail to pass on omega-3 equity.

On the political side we should eliminate wasteful use of these resources as much as we should work on preservation.  The net gain is small if we reduce fishmeal/oil production yet still use it to make our lawns green, our house pets purr or diesel engines run. 

Equally important to our industry and the consumer is knowledge about the issues, options for solutions and knowledge about the products we bring to market. I concur with the recommendation for greater accountability and transparency of measurable improvements, as long as that includes unambiguous labeling of all techniques and sources that create those efficiencies.

Genetic engineering is genetic engineering, whether it is conducted upon the final product or incorporated into a component of that product (feed or otherwise). 

The Food and Drug Administration’s recent declaration that it may allow genetically engineered salmon into the marketplace and their subsequent and more distressing position it will not require disclosure to the effect the consumer is made aware they are purchasing a genetically engineered product should set off alarms.      

If FDA’s strategy in gaining consumer acceptance of genetically altered food is to flood our food supply with those products to the extent they are unavoidable or blindfold the consumer by eliminating clear labeling, the only countermeasure we can deploy is complete transparency and full disclosure. 

Many consumer surveys indicate the average consumer does not want genetically modified anything in their diet yet if we cannot tell, everyone is victimized by the elimination of choice.   

If consumers are unable to differentiate products and unwittingly consume genetically modified organisms or those raised using genetically modified feed, the industry will have a very difficult time convincing them we were not the ones responsible for pulling the cork on that genie’s bottle.  

Our mission is to preserve and manage our natural resources; replicating them via genetic manipulation is a shortcut. 

Dick Martin is president of Black Pearl Seafood LLC in Boston 

 

Find other SeaFood Business Point of View featured articles, click here.

June 2013 - SeaFood Business  

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