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Why Genetically Modified Salmon Affects My Rights as a Citizen

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The one thing, above all others, that I need from Government is for it to provide and protect liberty for the people and for their children. Anything which takes away from any freedom must be counterbalanced by benefit.

As a farmer, GM crops represent a huge abrogation of my freedom. I am quite happy that people may want to grow GM, and that some countries may allow it, but not if it impinges on my ability not to have it. Now, a decision made by a Washington committee can make me less free to farm, but far worse may affect my freedom not to eat GM.

In the natural world, nothing stays where you put it. Air pollution moves on the wind, plastic bags follow the currents to tangle up in the Pacific garbage patch. GM crops, like soya bean, have spread on the wind. Some will tell you that this is not so and there is plenty of non-GM soya out there, but Non-GM actually means that there may be contamination to 0.5%. So no GM-free soya is available anymore.

Now the genetic modification of a high-order animal is being proposed. And they will escape, and breed. I do not believe anyone doubts this really. If allowed in the United States it will come across to Scotland, and I cannot stop it. We share a common sea. I will have no recourse but to accept the inevitable: GM salmon will be all around me.

My inalienable right as a farmer or gardener or landowner is to grow what I choose on my land. If GM contaminates or can contaminate my crop, it will reduce its saleability and also its price. If GM crops or animals contaminate farming, we cannot avoid eating them, even if we choose not to.

This moral dilemma is justified by the GM lobby on two counts: cost and food security. The first is questionable because the salmon have never been grown commercially. We already know that if salmon grow too fast, their spines can break, leading to high deformation. We also know that the fastest growing of a species are usually the most vulnerable to disease. These salmon are going to be grown initially in recirculation systems (which farmed salmon have been grown in before). Recirculation systems require a huge input of electricity. To keep costs down, the stocking densities will have to be high, leading to disease and deaths.

Food security, as a justification for GM salmon, is really laughable. I have been in salmon farming for 30 years and to my certain knowledge no one has ever suggested that salmon farming is going to save the world from starvation. It is a way to grow fish in the sea, and doing it well is expensive. We are not going to feed the world this way, and it is delusion to suggest that we will.

Added to this is the morality of owning the genetic structure of an animal. Breeding lines have always been owned, but that is not the same. Farmers can buy stock and breed from them and generate their own competing stock. Owning a gene structure means monopoly, especially of an animal that is 95% sterile. Monopoly means that control is total, and we know what happens with absolute power. The inventors of GM salmon will make huge amounts of money, they will take over the salmon industry -- and they know it.

So the real reason we are asked to take this risk is profit. I have been and remain a capitalist. I believe in profit and what it can do for society, but I am not going to sit idly by while someone goes to the bank and draws out my children's inheritance just so that they can make a buck. If government does not stand up and protect that inheritance, the biodiversity and richness of our ecosystem, at a time like this, then it is avoiding its duty to the entire human race -- present and future.

Is it right for a corporation to own the genetic structure of an animal that might become widespread in the wild around the world without being accountable for the damage that it might do? Clearly the corporation could put down a bond to cover the costs of recovery of all escapes, but we know that the size of the bond would have to be so large and the task so huge that it will never happen.

So in the end, it is down to whether government will accept responsibility for its decisions. If the F.D.A. approves GM salmon, then the U.S. government has to ask itself these questions: Do we accept the responsibility if this technology escapes and are we willing to pay the price of that responsibility? If the answer is no, then any acceptance of this technology is an abrogation of the moral duty of government and an affront to my liberty.

In the olden days, when people did not understand the risks of going to a new place, the map would have a phrase written on it to describe the risks: "Here there be dragons!" It did not mean don't go there. It meant accept the risks of where you are going. All I ask is that we evaluate the risks of going down this path, versus the actual benefits. In doing so we have to acknowledge what we do and do not know.

It is our moral responsibility as a generation that has seen some of the worst environmental excesses to think deeply, ask searching questions and put in structures to contain the risks of the decisions we make, to protect future generations. We live in a time of financial insecurity that is impinging on the lives of our children because we did not think about tomorrow. Please let's not further damage what we have because we did not think about the day after tomorrow!

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