From my point of view, “unnatural” spans a range of things. All domesticated breeds are genetically altered. Look at corn compared to its progenitor teosinte, a wild grass still found in Central America. Or a toy poodle compared to the timber wolf that was its progenitor before people started breeding them for all kinds of traits.
Humans have done a lot to alter animals genetically for thousands of years by just selective breeding. Genetic engineering makes it possible to make fast genetic changes without selective breeding. I am not comfortable with it because of unintended consequences. But compared to the unintended (and intended) consequences of agriculture in general, with its pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, habitat destruction, predator control, water diversions and groundwater depletion, not to mention the explosion of human population facilitated especially by the Green Revolution, genetic alteration through genetic engineering seems almost a minor issue.
What I do dislike is patents on genetically engineered life forms, and especially the way some companies have used patented, genetically engineered forms to directly drive people out of business through horribly unethical legal maneuvering.
So there are broad issues, among which is the sustainability of farmed salmon. One issue with farming is the food conversion ratio, the amount of fish meal, for instance, that you have to feed a salmon to get a pound of meat back. The genetically engineered salmon actually use food more efficiently. And I don’t believe human safety from eating a genetically engineered salmon is an added concern.
I’d rather they weren’t genetically engineering farm animals, but to me, in the whole array of environmental and agricultural issues, there are bigger fish to fry. So I have mixed feelings and am generally not comfortable with the larger implications. But at the moment I don’t think it’s a human health issue from a strictly culinary or medical standpoint.
- Carl Safina