Fish oil, ingested in pill form or from fish themselves, is often touted as a nutrient that can reduce the risk of heart disease. But producing enough of this oil to meet increasing demand could exacerbate the world’s serious overfishing problems. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has given the go-ahead to a trial study of a new plant that could provide a solution.The trial involves the use of genetically modified camelina seeds that have been designed to produce fish oil. If all goes according to plan, these seeds could eventually be used as a food additive and as feed for fish in farms, as the Guardian reports:
Fish oils, or omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, have been proven to be beneficial for human health and to help protect against coronary heart disease. It is also hoped the crop, if grown commercially in the future, might reduce the burden of over-fishing. About 80% of the fish oil harvested from the oceans is fed to fish grown in farms. […]The particular oils that benefit the health of fish and humans, called EPA and DHA, are not in fact produced by fish themselves but instead accumulated by eating marine microbes. Napier’s team took up to seven genes from algae that produce the fish oils and transplanted them into oil seed plants called camelina. It naturally produces short-chain oils and has been grown as a food crop for centuries in southern and eastern Europe and is used a biofuel crop in North America.
Unfortunately, the fact that this crop is based on GMOs means that many greens will oppose it out of hand, regardless of the potential health and environmental benefits. Even if the science works out and the product is deemed to be healthy, it could still face bans like those on GMO corn in France.This would be a profoundly destructive policy. GMOs have repeatedly been shown to be safe; they can help to feed a growing population by using the earth’s land more efficiently; and now they could reduce overfishing as well. What’s greener than that?