It’s Alive

FrankenfishThere was a lot of recent press about the beef that you find in fast-food restaurants.  If history is any indication, actually calling it beef is somewhat disingenuous.  Be that as it may, it was found that much of what was coming out of the window of the drive-thru wasn’t really beef at all, but “pink slime.”  Beef producers round up all of the scraps, trimmings, and connective tissue that were left over from t-bones and sirloins, and ground it up to make burger patties.  The only problem is that the grinders used for the process were a prime breeding ground for clever little pathogens like salmonella and E. coli.  The meat industry came up with a nifty little technique in the 1990’s to expose the ground beef to ammonium hydroxide that would, theoretically, raise the ph level and kill the pesky pathogens.

There were two small problems; it didn’t always work and ammonium hydroxide has a tendency to morph into ammonium nitrate, an ingredient of many household cleaners, fertilizers, and homemade bombs.

Yum.

Folks got kind of antsy about eating it, started getting vocal about it, and late last year McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell announced that they would no longer use the product.

Great!

But in a moment of crystalline prescience, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to purchase 7 million pounds of the viscous stuff for (ready for this?) the school lunch program.  We suppose that the resulting burgers and Salisbury steaks will supplement the pizza (a vegetable!) and french fries (also a vegetable!) currently in our nutritious program.

We have a habit of doing some pretty creative things to perfectly good food.  It isn’t a new thing, as farmers have spliced and grafted and cross-pollinated for centuries to create better fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  But we’re sometimes pushing the boundaries of what’s good or right.

According to Greek mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing creature composed of the parts of lions, snakes, and goats.  It has since come to define a grotesque monster, or according to Random House, a “vain or idle fancy.”

So what have we done?

We created a featherless chicken, which reaches broiling age faster and is easier to clean.  Some farmers were forced to put them in little sweaters because they were freezing to death.

We created little furry animals that glow in the dark.  You know, for research!  Little day-glo mice and beagles.  Yup:  beagles.  They must make amazing party favors.

We created cows.  Cows that deliver tasty, nutritious milk.  Cows that have been genetically modified to deliver mother’s milk.  Human mothers.  We’re waiting for the chocolate cow.

Next on the menu is the Frankenfish.

There is a company called AquaBounty that has patented a salmon that is genetically engineered to grow really big really fast.  A normal salmon grows big enough to eat in about 3 years.  The Frankenfish is ready in about a year and a half.

If you think that sounds weird, then read on.

AquaBounty got its start in the anti-freeze business.  They didn’t understand why fish in icy waters didn’t just freeze up into fish-cubes, so they started playing with the proteins in the fish blood.  This led them to some research and patents on how to freeze things and not ruin them.

When AquaBounty came up with their fantastic idea for the Frankenfish, they were going to need FDA approval to sell it to consumers.  The FDA usually holds some hearings and looks at some studies to see what the impact might be of consuming an item like this.  But in this case, they didn’t.  There was no public comment period, and they classified the salmon as a ‘veterinary drug” even though it was clearly going to be marketed for consumption.

If you eat a bunch of garlic, you kind of smell like garlic.  If you eat a bunch of asparagus, you smell it when you…well, you know.  If you eat a bunch of carrots your eyesight should improve.  Nobody from the government asked what would happen to you if you eat a protein that grows with an X-Men quickness.  Your body is going to break down all of the essential nutrients and proteins in the Frankenfish and use them.

And what happens to the regular working Joe salmon living in the area when a few Frankenfish escape and start mingling with the natives?  Then we would have a third breed of salmon.  A Spock-salmon that isn’t sure if it wants to swim upstream or just swim through the dam with its super-salmon strength.