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We had a story the other day about how a man described as "a Soviet biologist turned oligarch turned government minister turned fish farming entrepreneur" seems to be the only thing keeping alive the dream of creating a genetically engineered fast-growing salmon that can be eaten by American consumers.

Commenting on the continuing debate over GM foods, I commented:

I'm so torn on this one. There is a big part of me that worries about eating GM products, and I certainly think they ought to be labeled as such ... but I also don't want to be a Luddite about it. Creating such items may indeed be a way to generate more food and feed more people, which could help eradicate hunger in the US and the rest of the world. I'd hate to lose that opportunity because I'm a little squeamish...

To which MNB user Rosemary Fifield responded:

If the purpose of biotechnology was to "help eradicate hunger in the US and the rest of the world," that would be something to consider. However, to date, it's all about the producer, not the consumer. Can the producer grow a bigger fish faster? Can they spray pesticides at will because the plant of choice won't die along with everything else? Not a single GM product on the market today is there for the benefit of the consumer. Yet what will be the ramifications for all of us if those unnatural salmon escape and change the ecology of the oceans? Or those weeds subjected to all the pesticides come back stronger, and now more and harsher pesticides are needed?

World hunger is about politics and distribution, not lack of food. World hunger is going to be even worse when a select few own the rights to the seeds and when more farmers have been put out of business because they don't want to--or can't afford to--grow GMO crops or animals. Those pigs and cows bred for healthy omega 3 fatty acids in their meat will only promote world hunger. Raising animals consumes more grains and water pound for pound than if the grain were fed directly to hungry people instead, and they'd be healthier for it. Plus, do you really believe the "better for you" meats will be used to eradicate world hunger? As for mad cow resistance, we wouldn't have to worry if we didn't feed unnatural things like chicken manure to cows in the first place. Our priorities are so messed up, and GMOs are not the answer by a long shot.

MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

Luddism was about machines putting people out of work so bigger profits could be made.

GMOs have yet to be developed that increase yield or resist drought. They may well destroy species of wild fish or animals, if released into the wild, however.

So there is a sort of association with Luddism, in that the products of laboratory genetic engineering will destroy essential elements of the natural world so bigger profits can be made.

Don't fall for the PR hype behind GMOs. Do you believe that major corporations are investing in expensive technology in order to feed poor people? Think about that. How will poor people pay for products that carry multiple patents on the genetic code?

Major studies by UN agriculture specialists conclude that the future of feeding humanity is "eco-agriculture" which is awfully close to what we call "organic" in this country.

MNB user Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

The concern of many of us with GMO salmon is not that we are squeamish, but that these fish will inevitably make it into the wild.

They will be farmed in salt water farms near of even in the ocean, and if history is any lesson all domesticated species enter the surrounding environment, whether by accident or ill-advised design.

Once free the genetic purity of millions of years of salmon evolution could be destroyed, all because we thought, somehow, this would feed the people of Mali.

Truth is: to many people, not too few fish.

MNB user Ellen Ornato wrote:

Had to chime in here. There are so many challenges with GM fish and a few possible upsides, too. The upside is that the fish are raised in a managed environment so that hopefully the water doesn’t contain heavy metals and is free (or less) polluted. Farming fish can increase yields substantially and yes, feed the hungry. It’s hard to argue against increasing food production.
The downside is that creating these strains of fish almost always has detrimental effects on the natural fish living in close proximity; they’re not being pumped up with antibiotics and are not disease-resistant so the water that comes OUT of the farmed areas into lakes, rivers and oceans carries diseases that kill natural populations. This doesn’t begin to address what happens when we consume this fish and what chemicals we add to the list of things we didn’t know we were ingesting.

But another MNB user wrote:

Why are you "squeamish"?  It's exactly the same meat as from any other animal.  These are just products of "intelligent design" instead of the randomness of nature.  Genes have been "modifying" for billions of years.  What do you think evolution is all about?  Now we're just modifying them with specific purposes in mind.  Relax!

Actually, it is responses like this one that make me squeamish.

It is not "exactly" the same.

And in another context, equating "intelligent design" with "evolution" might raise a few eyebrows.

Finally, "intelligent" is not always the same thing as "profitable." I think that there is a legitimate case to be made that the companies focusing on biotechnology are a lot more interested in the latter than they are in using biotechnology for the greater good. (Let me be clear. I am not anti-profit. I am not anti-science. But I am in favor of contextual, long-term, strategic thinking, and I respect the views of those who feel that that biotech companies may be running roughshod over the natural order of things.)

From another reader:

Two things…1. I would not be opposed to eating GMO foods IF they were proven, with correctly approved scientific rigor, under longitudinal studies, to be harmless to human consumption. 2. In the U.S. alone we have 19 million acres of lawn (front and back) growing green grass, taking huge amounts of chemicals and oil to maintain. If we are concerned about food…why don’t we convert yards to mini farms? If we are concerned about food…why are we so determined to eradicate the small farmer? Why do we concentrate so much of our resources to produce expensive, proprietary and questionable food? The path we are taking to future food sources concerns me and befuddles me!  What’s wrong with natural food? Just saying!

Regarding my rave review of the new Price Chopper limited small-store format, MNB user Joe Axford wrote:

I couldn't agree with you more, especially on Price Chopper,  where a smaller format is a sure winner in that particular location.  I believe the big chains are missing out on this opportunity as I see more and more empty retail space under 30,000 sq. feet that would be ideal in my neck of the woods(southern NH, Northern MA).  Most local towns have 2-3 Market Baskets with at least one smaller one out of the bunch which the elderly and those of us who wish to run in for a few things and run out love.  However, while they beat everybody on price by a large margin -IMO- one does have to wonder if their new super stores will continue to be as sharp on price as they look more and more like the big three in the Northeast format wise.  They still beat all three in checkout efficiency as they do get you in and out very quickly. 

Last week we took note of a Washington Post column by Katherine Tallmadge, author and registered dietician, in which she talked about seven foods often described as bad for you that actually have health benefits. Included in the list was gluten and wheat, which she said "are vital for good health, and are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and excess weight."

Which prompted one MNB user to write:

Thanks for the laughable list  and  your view.   My wife has Celiac Disease,  an autoimmune condition caused by gluten.  Even consuming minute amounts result in  side effects that can last for several days.   Her mother was diagnosed with it much  too late before the gluten caused irreversible damage. She died a slow and agonizing death from complications from Celiac Disease.   No sense in expounding any  further. We continue to run into people with similar viewpoints. We’ve discovered it’s a waste of time to attempt convince otherwise…like writing this note.

Actually, I don't think your note was a waste of time.

First, my condolences on the passing of your mother-in-law, and best wishes as you and your wife deal with her medical issues. I have relatives who suffer from Celiac Disease, and I know how tough it can be.

But to be clear, I don't think that Katherine Tallmadge was suggesting that gluten and wheat are good for everyone - just that people should not have a knee-jerk negative reaction to them. Of course, if you are allergic to gluten you should not eat it. Just as if you are lactose-intolerant you should not consume dairy, or if you are an alcoholic you should not have a glass of red wine.

Gluten is not bad. But it can be bad for you if it causes medical issues. There is a difference.

The enemy here is not Katherine Tallmadge, who I thought was making a legitimate point about moderation and contextual thinking. Or even MNB. (I sense a certain resentment in your email.) The enemy is absolutism, which is sort of like ideology ... practicing it can become a substitute for actual thinking.
KC's View: