Politics Magazine

We Should Grow Fish Oil Plants

Posted on the 24 January 2014 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

It may not be making the all the front pages today, but a significant development in the fields of agriculture and biology was reported in the news this morning. Trials are to begin in Harpenden, as early as this spring, in growing genetically modified plants that produce “fish oil” in their seeds. The state-funded researchers are the same who used tight security on the same plot of land to grow GM wheat a few years ago- without the crops being destroyed by “green” militants. This makes it one of the few GM trials in the UK that could actually survive for long enough to yield results.

If “fish oil” plants are successful, the plan is to produce the oil to feed to farmed fish. Fish do not produce the oil, but ingest it by eating the algae that produce it. Fish oil could also be used for human consumption, helping to reduce demand for a declining fish population, however, their will be greater social and regulatory obstacles to the latter idea.

Personally, I support the idea. I think that genetic modification can have all kinds of benefits provided it is executed properly. Humans do not have the right to modify animals’ genes, with the arguable exception of limited experiments of vital importance. Plants, microbes and fungi are a different kettle of fish (if you’ll pardon the awful pun). These are not sentient beings, and we have been justifiably shaping them to meet our needs for thousands of years.  I don’t understand ethical objections to the genetic modification of plants: everything we eat has been subject to crude genetic modification in the forms of selective breeding and cross fertilisation since about 10,000 BC. Nobody who isn’t a hunter gatherer can be a serious objector to that.

No, the main problem with GM is the absurd state of intellectual property law such that the GM agri-giants can exercise absolute control over the use of “copyrighted” crops. I don’t want to live in a world in which our food supply is controlled by a few shady mega-businesses. Oh wait, it already is. Most of the foodstuffs that you eat have passed through the hands of one of six speculators at some point. The majority of maize (corn) consumed in the world was bought and sold by Glencore at some point. It is speculation that has inflated food prices so much in recent years.

There are means of democratising genetic property, though I’m no expert on the reforms that we’d need. And, a world in which demand for animal products can be met by plants might be an “unnatural” one, but it’s a lot more environmentally and ethically secure.

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