Full Scale Alert

Aieee! It's the attack of the mutant killer salmon! Following deeply disturbing news reports of 115,000 farm-raised Atlantic salmon escaping in Washington state waters in 1999, and 300,000 salmon escaping in Maine waters in 2000, more than 200 grocers, restaurants and seafood distributors nationwide have called for a ban on "genetically engineered fish."The scary swimmers causing the uproar have been tinkered with to contain a desired trait, such as an ability to grow quickly (10 to 30 times faster than normal!). According to Protect Our Waters from Genetically Engineered Fish (POWGEF), biotechnologists are now able to take genetic material from one organism and insert it into the permanent genetic code of another fish. There are already more than 35 species of GE fish currently being developed around the world, some containing genes from other fish, insects, and even humans.

Studies show that GE fish are more aggressive, consume more food, and attract more mates than wild fish, claims POWGEF, though their offspring are less fit and less likely to survive. As a result, some scientists predict that GE fish, if allowed to mingle with the general population, will cause some wild species to become extinct within only a few generations.

Two Arizona restaurants have joined the crusade, promising to protect their customers by serving fish taken only from the wild. Elements, the flagship restaurant at Sanctuary Resort in Paradise Valley, and Roaring Fork of Scottsdale signed a pledge to boycott the GE critters last week, says POWGEF. The restaurants join the ranks of such world-renowned eateries as New York City's Le Bernadin, and Equinox in Washington, D.C.

"I support whole foods," says Chuck Wiley, executive chef at Elements. "There's no room for something that might damage the environment. My biggest concern is that up to 15 percent of these fish escape from their pens."

Diners shouldn't run screaming from any restaurant quite yet, though. Currently, no robo-fish are allowed for human consumption, though one breeding farm has applied for market approval that "could go through anytime," says POWGEF. There also is no proof as of yet that GE fish cause a health risk, just the concern of "potential toxicity, allergenicity, and aquaculture disease."

Still, it's nice to know that at least two local eateries are prepared to step up and save us from an assault of pseudo-salmon should we ever need it.

C.Y.B.A.: Al Dente's of Scottsdale wants Valley diners to know it has removed its "Big Ass" burger from its menu (the name stolen from Scottsdale's Roaring Fork, mentioned in last week's column).

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