Today’s theatrical release of “Jurassic World” appears to have all of the elements of a summer blockbuster: carnage, crude humor, and top-grossing actor Chris Pratt.
The newest sequel to the 1993 classic “Jurassic Park” also has rampaging GMO dinosaurs, genetically engineered to be bigger and badder than T-Rex. The predictable drama that ensues when the park loses control of these GMO beasts practically begs movie-goers to think about the real-life risks associated with genetic engineering. Especially GMO salmon, which, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will be the first biotech animal to reach our plates.
The parallels between the sci-fi scenarios in the Jurassic Park series and the science surrounding GMO salmon have not been lost on scientists over the years. In 2010, government scientists at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service sharply criticized the FDA for its weak environmental risk assessment of GMO salmon, noting: “Maybe they should watch ‘Jurassic Park’.”
Indeed, it’s almost as if AquaBounty designed its risky GMO salmon operation based on the failed blueprints from “Jurassic Park.”
In the original “Jurassic Park,” the park’s mastermind, Dr. John Hammond, trumpeted the safety and security of his operation by noting that he had isolated an all-female dinosaur population on a remote island under tight controls. That’s eerily similar to the promises that AquaBounty Technologies President Ron Stotish (who even looks like Dr. John Hammond!) makes about his GMO salmon, saying his company can prevent environmentally damaging escapes of its fish by using all-female, sterile salmon grown in geographically isolated facilities.
But that’s pure science fiction. GMO salmon are not all sterile. Even the FDA acknowledges that up to five percent may be fertile. And the company’s operations are not biosecure: AquaBounty has already experienced several major accidents, one of which involved a bad storm and “lost” salmon. Once fish escape, they can never be retrieved, and their impacts on the environment, while perhaps not of Jurassic proportions, could be severe.
To me, the biggest message that the Jurassic films offer on AquaBounty’s GMO salmon is the way profit-minded companies promote totally unnecessary and highly risky technologies as scientific breakthroughs. As one character in the new “Jurassic World” film notes, “Corporate thought the genetic modification would add the ‘wow’ factor” to the Jurassic tourist attraction.
Or as Jeff Goldblum’s character from “Jurassic Park” noted in one of his memorable monologues:
“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it…but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
With AquaBounty’s GMO salmon, it’s not just a question of whether we “should” commercialize this risky and unnecessary fish, but also where the line lies between science and science fiction. AquaBounty has constructed all sorts of mythologies around its fish, saying it grows twice as fast as normal salmon, will be grown in a “Fort Knox” aquaculture facility that prevents escapes, and somehow will be able to help feed the world.
Unfortunately, this fairy tale serves as the basis for the FDA’s still-pending risk assessment, which itself has been a bit of a science-fiction farce. Independent science continues to emerge contradictingAquaBounty’s claims about the safety and benefits of GMO salmon – and FDA’s rubber-stamping of those claims.
So while you’re watching this summer blockbuster, think about whether the “Jurassic” approach to commercializing risky new technologies makes sense for our food supply. Check out Food & Water Watch’sfact sheet on GMO salmon and tell the FDA to stop its flawed review and ban GMO salmon.