Food for thought

Do you like the popular fish tilapia? How about salmon? Did you know that most of what is sold in stores and restaurants in the United States comes from China, Vietnam and the Phillipines where food saftey standards are, shall we say, not as stringent as U.S. standards, which ain’t all that great. Even that “wild-caught” Pacific northwest salmon for which you pay a premium price is sometimes shipped to China for processing because it’s still cheaper than paying minimum wage here in the states. Not exactly fresh, is it? Not to mention safe.

The Food and Drug Administration inspects less than one percent of all imported seafood.  Alabama has the strictest seafood safety measures on record and they systematically reject fifty to sixty percent of imported seafood because of safety concerns, including toxicity from unclean processing facilities and contamination from medications. The cumulative effect of that kind of toxic stew on our bodies is kinda scary, isn’t it?

The FDA and the Department of Agriculture are charged with the duty of protecting our food supply in this country, but the Department of Agriculture only aspires to examining eleven percent of the food that crosses our borders. The FDA’s numbers are even worse at 0.06 percent. Not all of this is their fault. Their budgets were slashed and burned during the Bush administration, which resulted in gutting the number of inspectors to a mere fraction of what is needed. You can only do so much with that kind of limitation.

Not only do we have to worry about imported seafood causing us harm, but we also should be worrying about the state of farmed fish in this country. If you see Atlantic salmon on a label, that means that the salmon was raised on a farm, and we’re not talking bucolic here. The fish from these “farms”  have been found to have higher concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls than wild salmon, which gets into their bodies from the concentrated fish meal used to create their feed. Fish farming, and that includes tilapia and catfish as well as salmon, has been proven detrimental to the environment.

The fish are grown in overcrowded, open-net pens in the ocean, placing an unnatural stress on the surrounding ocean environment as well as on the fish themselves. In those conditions it becomes necessary to use antibiotics on an already unstable fish in order to control bacterial infections and other diseases — and to protect the investment of carnivorous fish farming.

Salmon farms, which are huge nets just offshore, contribute enormous amounts of pollution to the ocean resulting in massive dead zones, killing clams, oysters, grasses that feed and provide shelter for young wild fish; to be fair, cattle, hog, and chicken farming impact our inland waterways similarly. But now we have even more to worry about, because the FDA is considering approval of genetically modified salmon to add to our food woes.

The fish farming industry has assured the FDA that this “frankenfish” poses no threat to our health. Do we really believe a self-serving industry that is all about bigger profits has the health concerns of its consumers at heart?  What about the likely environmental impact?  The fish, an Atlantic salmon, contains growth hormone from a Pacific species, the Chinook salmon, as well as genetic material from another species, the ocean pout, that causes the “transgenic” salmon to grow at twice the normal speed. Yep, faster growth=bigger profits. I’m certainly reassured by these facts.

I have seen salmon spawning in the streams of Alaska; they are very large. What about “frankenfish” that escapes from the netting? These enormous salmon would decimate the smaller fish populations; and breeding with wild salmon would create a new monster to be dealt with.

If the FDA goes through with approval of genetically modified salmon, we may be in for an onslaught of new creatures in this land. Frankencows? Frankenpigs? Frankenchickens? We’re not that far off now with the use of antibiotics and rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) on factory farms.

How do we stop this from happening? The FDA tabled this discussion at their September meeting and will be holding additional hearings beginning February 21. Contact the White House and your representatives in Congress and voice your concerns about the safety of our food supply. Give your food some thought.