Supply and demand
It is the pith and substance of capitalism and the free market: make a better product, one that people want, and you’ll be rewarded. Make a product the consumer doesn’t want, and you will fail. If your product is in demand, you get the chance to increase price. If it isn’t, dropping the price is one of the few ways to make it attractive.
At least, it works that way as long as no one, and no government, artificially interferes with the process.
In mid-November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the consumption of genetically modified salmon. It’s the first time a genetically altered animal has been approved as a food. The Aqua Bounty salmon has deep roots in Atlantic Canada — it was first developed using research from Memorial University in St. John’s, and its current operation pro- duces salmon eggs in P.E.I. (though the fish are grown out in Panama).
Trademarked as AquAdvantage salmon, these fish grow almost twice as fast as traditional aquaculture salmon; the process involves using a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon, along with a gene trigger from the ocean pout. (The ocean pout trigger keeps the Chinook gene switched on constantly.)
Getting the salmon to this point has taken more than two decades; part of the delay has been public unease with eating the genetically modified product.
And there’s more unease coming: the FDA has said it will not require the salmon to be labelled as genetically engineered, a stance in keeping with the way many regulatory agencies have viewed genetically modified plant crops.
You can argue that people unreasonably fear genetically modified foods, that a largely uninformed public might shy away from purchasing salmon or corn or anything else that has undergone a tinker or two deep in its genetic code. Fair enough. But we require fat, sodium and calorie counts on processed foods — whether or not or customers understand or even read them. And we’re surrounded by foods whose price depends exactly on the details of its origin: Parmesan cheese, Champagne and Belgian chocolate, to name a few at the top of the supply and demand chain.
Since AquAdvantage grows faster, there must already be a potential price edge for its developers; they won’t be buying feed for as long.
Sell AquAdvantage if you like. But label it for what it is. Then, informed consumers can decide whether they want to buy. If I want to eat grass-fed beef or organic beef or bison, I should be able to trust that I know exactly what I’m eating. Some argue that genetically modified crops are nothing more than a kind of sped-up hybridization. Do I need to point out that if I want to pick different hybrid apples, all I have to do is read the label to decide if I want Honeycrisps, Russets, Cortlands or Granny Smiths?
Put it another way: if I think it’s better to drink whipping cream than milk, there might well be health implications from my decision. It’s unlikely a government will order a stop to milk and cream labelling just to protect me from my misguided beliefs.
If I don’t want to eat a genetically modified salmon — or any other genetically modified product, for that matter — why should a government help a particular producer or company by hiding its product in amongst everything else?
Let the market decide.