GM Salmon

salmon

Food Revolution?

The news is out, the revolution has begun. The US Food and drug Administration has passed the first ever GM animal for food consumption, and it is a fish.

This week a company gained a license to sell their new breed of GM salmon. It is modified, although it has genes from a different type of salmon, so not as Frankenstein as some other combinations, but that of course does not mean that this will always be the case. But I don’t want to be a scaremonger, they say it is safe (although that is of course based upon the company’s evidence), and so the choice is yours.

The new food is merely a type of Atlantic salmon injected with a gene from Pacific Chinook salmon to make it grow faster, but critics raise questions about safety, possible cross breeding and whether the general public even wants to eat GM fish. Without being too corny though it does raise questions of floodgates. First a cross salmon, then what comes next?

Oh but we can choose of course whether we want to eat it or not. But that requires information. Will it be labelled as a GM food? Well it won’t in the USA. That is because GM produce is viewed by the administration as being nutritionally equal to non GM, and so does not require labelling. Well to be exact it is voluntary. So if you want to sell it as science, advancement in nutrition, the way forward and futurism, you can label it, but if you want to slide it in unnoticed, then Bob’s the word.

Growth

It is about making it quicker and cheaper. A fish that will grow all year round gets bigger in half the time, so you can eat it earlier. You can farm it in tanks near the city, so it cuts down on various environmental pollutants and practices, but of course creates others.

And where to next? Surely in a few years there will be giant cows that grow to adulthood at twice the speed, and maybe sheep with dreadlocks?

Animal farming for foodstuffs is grizzly enough at is is (was), but now maybe we open another chapter.

I don’t want to put any links in this post, a quick search will find what you need. This is merely a personal opinion post, and I would like to hear others. The photo above is quite telling though, they are supposedly salmon of the same age, but one has been modified. Can you guess which one?

The Online GM Foods Debate

gm-picGM Experiences

A few weeks ago I was invited to Vienna to participate in a 2 day workshop on Responsible Research and Innovation in the Context of GMO. Obviously, these two topics being my main interests in life, I accepted, and off I went with my extremely stylish new laptop/overnight bag to an equally stylish country hotel.

It was a really interesting weekend. The other participants were scientists, members of regulatory bodies and governmental institutions, professors and other professionals from across Europe. I should say that this weekend was part of a much larger project called RES-AGORA, which is funded by the European Commission. You can read all about it here.

If that tickles your fancy here is the 60 page long Stakeholders Report.

But anyway back to the experience of a Luddite blogger in a posh hotel. I learned a lot about genetic modification, legislation, the problems of getting seeds to test, companies not making life easy for those testing or reporting, property rights and their effects over publication possibilities, loopholes in laws in different countries that allow people to legally buy seeds without a contract with the manufacturers (oh don’t get me started), and it got me thinking about writing an article.

So I did, and got it published here, in an Italian online academic journal.

Writing Skills

Now why is this of interest to you I hear you ask. Well I wrote this article basing much of it on the food series that I wrote here  on Technology Bloggers last year. In writing the series I unearthed a real underbelly of food production, and a little organization and rewriting, updating, selecting and expanding, and I had an academic article. You can download it for free here if you like.

The article raises the issue of how the GM debate is played out online. The problem it seems (to me) is that there is no forum for constructive debate about GM, and this leads to a polarization of positions. So we can imagine a scenario in which website “A” points out as many problems as the author can think of, ethical issues, exploitation, altering nature, global takeover of seed production, and other nasties. In the same scenario website “B” is glossy and tells us that only GM will be able to produce enough food to feed an ever growing population, that it is all safe, that they are spending money on research just to help us out….

The problem is that in all scenarios website C is the same as website A, and D is the same as B and so on. There is little room for debate about GM in organic fuel production, or any other possible uses. It is the goodies against the baddies, and the baddies have more money, friends and power. The goodies however don’t seem to have a broad enough base to attack from.

Now the article looks nothing like the blog series I grant you, nor does this 2 paragraph description above, and I have to say that a lot of work went into the article. But having done all of the research for the series gave me a really good grounding. Now I am sure that many readers have written blogs that follow long and intricate lines of argument, but I wonder how many have thought about writing an article for a journal, newspaper or magazine and submitting it? It certainly broadens your writing capabilities, and if you feel you have something important to say it gives access to different readerships.

And it looks good in the portfolio and on the CV!

Misshapen Food

bendy-marrow

More About Food Waste

I read with interest this week that leading UK supermarket chain Asda is starting to sell oddly shaped vegetables in a bid to waste less food. This announcement leads me to draw a few conclusions that I would like to share with you all, and brings back a few memories.

My mum and dad had 3 boys to bring up, in the dark shadow of the mills of Manchester, and they probably weren’t what we would call rich (today). Every year we went to Skegness for our summer holidays, and every Sunday went to the market.

Markets were a different thing then I think, everyone went. My mum used to buy her biscuits there. She bought them in a bag, a huge bag a bit like the ones we use today to put the rubbish in. The biscuits were broken. They had not made it into the boxes in the factory, were collected up and sold in huge sacks for next to nothing (I presume).

There was a chip shop too that put batter bits on your chips if you asked, the crumbs that had fallen into the fat off the fish, lovely.

As I became some form of adult I continued the tradition. A local chocolate maker sold bags of ‘misshapes’, again chocolates that had come out of the mold wrong, had treacle dribbling out of them or had got squashed. The same chocolates that cost a fortune in their branded high street shops.

Surely this must be a good way to use the wasted ones, although there is the issue of supply and demand that I raised in my previous post about food waste.

Vegetism

So back to Asda. They are going to sell strangely shaped vegetables for less than their regularly shaped cousins. Are they going to sell them for less though because maybe they are worth less (or worthless)? This is a strange idea for sure. They are all fresh vegetables, they all contain exactly the same nutritional value, you can cook them all and they all taste the same, so why sell them for less?

Well we live in a society here in Europe that has engineered a situation in which only certain shapes are good. You might recall I mentioned ableism in a recent post and it certainly isn’t difficult to see how the human figure has been moulded into an ideal type, with all variations somewhat frowned upon or in need of correction (particularly I feel in the case of women).

And this is also the case for vegetables. In this case aesthetics is enshrined in law, as the European Union has regulations about the size and shape of fruit and vegetables. These regulations were ridiculed in the popular press ten years ago as it was said that straight bananas could not be sold. Read all about it here.

And vegetables come in at least 3 categories; nice looking that go into supermarkets, not so nice looking that go into processed food production, and unfit for human consumption, that go into animal feed. But it can all be used, you get less for the ugly ones however.

So producers have always been able to sell these vegetables, but for different uses and at different prices, so I must come to the conclusion that this is a marketing ploy in order to sell them for more. Just my opinion of course, but cynicism runs deep in my line of work.

It would be great to see them though in with their cousins for sale all together at the same price, but reports are that they are often left on the shelf to rot. Apparently people prefer a correctly curved banana to a straight one, and a straight marrow to the one in the photo above.

Glocalism

glocal

This week I have had an article published in an international peer reviewed journal called Glocalism. The article is about food production, and reports on many of the arguments that I touched upon in my recent food series.

The article, rather catchily entitled “Collective food Purchasing Networks in Italy as a Case Study of Responsible Innovation” by J. Hankins and C. Grasseni is free and can be downloaded here. It is slightly more of an academic article than my blog writing, is co-authored with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni, and reports our joint fieldwork looking at alternative food production networks in Italy and the USA.

Glocalism

As I said above the article is in the journal Glocalism, which is all about glocalism. So what is glocalism? Well it is all in the name, it is being local and global at the same time. To take part of the explanation offered by the Globus and Locus Association

“The term “glocalism” identifies the momentous changes generated by globalization, changes which have resulted in a permanent intertwining of the global and the local dimensions. In fact, there is no longer any place on the planet which has not been touched to a growing degree by various types of global flows and, at the same time, there are no global flows which are not increasingly parsed according to the many different characteristics of the places”.

Do you agree with this? That globalism means that the local can only exist in relation to the global? Or that globalization has effected every corner of the world?

Globalization

If we think about changes in the environment that maybe we should accept this line. If we think about how event in one part of the world effect others (or all) then we can see the local as part of a global system. If we look for local solutions to a problem are we in some way involving the global? If we are talking about anything that has to do with poverty, or pollution, or the environment, or anything related to technology, then we would probably have to accept that these are not local issues, but global. A house in Detroit is not sold for $1000 because of the state of Detroit, but because the world that Detroit is in has produced a situation that makes a house in Detroit (some areas) worth $1000.

If we think about technology use through this framework, we can see how much the Internet (to give one example) is taking the local and moving it into the global. The proportion of our world’s population living in cities of a million or more has risen from thirty-seven percent in 1970 to fifty percent today. By 2030 more than two-thirds of world population will be in large cities, and most of them will be in Asia. Why is this? Well one reason is the need to operate via high speed Internet. The infrastructure is in the big cities, and it has become a necessary part of working life.

So the fact that a city in India or Thailand has high speed Internet infrastructure effects mobility across the globe, the local and the global are entwined. This has an effect on food production capability, transport, the environment, and everything else you might like to think about across the globe.

How about that for a thought on an autumn morning in front of the computer in the Netherlands or a wintry start to a New York day shovelling snow?