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John Block: GE Salmon

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Today, I have a fishy story to talk about, but before I get started on that, what do you think of the nation’s economy? I know the farm economy is not booming, but consumer confidence is off the charts – a 20% jump from last year. Unemployment is down to 4.3%. The stock market keeps hitting all-time highs. Second quarter growth is at a solid 2.6%. President Trump says it is going to 3%. How long can this economic explosion be sustained? We shall see.

Now the fish story –

Here is a headline in the Washington Post paper: “Regulations slow GMO salmon sales in U.S., but Canadians are eating tons.”

I don’t think that very many people are aware that the U.S. government approved the sale of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. We just haven’t been able to decide what the labeling requirements should be. The Canadian government jumped out ahead of us and now they are eating genetically modified fish.

These fish are Atlantic salmon – farm-raised. They reach market weight twice as fast as regular Atlantic salmon. They reach market size and weight in a year and a half, and consume 10% less feed. The Atlantic salmon that have not been genetically engineered take three years to reach market weight.

The GE process gives Atlantic salmon a growth hormone gene taken from a Chinook salmon. All of this new food production technology is hard to imagine. What if my pigs could reach market weight in three months instead of five months? We haven’t heard the last of this. There will be other fish and other animals genetically engineered. They will eat less feed and grow faster.

AquaBounty is the company producing these amazing salmon. The company plans to farm-raise the salmon at a plant they bought in Indiana, and hopes to hit the U.S. market in 2019. The fish is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is “as safe and nutritious for humans as conventional salmon.” That doesn’t mean the labeling process will be easy. We have had a long running battle over the labeling of GE foods.

Eric Hallerman, a fish genetics expert at Virginia Tech, predicts “GE fish and other animals will be on market shelves around the world in the future.”

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit