Despite strong public opposition, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon. AquaBounty, based in Massachusetts, said the FDA is on the threshold of authorizing its salmon as safe for consumption and for the environment, even though salmon genes have been spliced with a growth hormone gene forcing it to grow up to five times faster.
NPR’s Scott Hensley laid out the genetic breakdown. AquaBounty took a gene for growth hormone from the Pacific’s Chinook salmon, and spliced it into the DNA of the Atlantic species.
Then added a protein from an Ocean Pout that acts like antifreeze in the blood allowing the pout to thrive in icy waters, and inserted the genetic code that acts as a switch for the pout’s antifreeze machinery and put it in their salmon to keep the growth hormone on.
Oh, by the way, a version of the antifreeze protein has already been used with genetically engineered yeast to prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream. The FDA just hasn’t seen fit to inform you.
No Labeling Required
It may take two or three years, but after final approval, the FDA has no intention of labeling AquaBounty’s salmon as genetically engineered. The FDA claims that since there’s no material difference between the flesh of the GE fish and the flesh of regular farm-raised Atlantic salmon, they aren’t required to be labeled separately.
Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with Consumers Union said the “FDA should require labeling to insure that any unexpected or unintended effects of engineering this salmon come to FDA attention.” And Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists told NPR that “It is against the law to withhold from the public information that’s material. And,” says Mellon, “I think information about whether animal foods are genetically engineered is highly material to all kinds of people. I think it is within the power of the FDA to interpret that term that way — they are simply refusing to do it, they are not incapable of doing it.”
In a poll the Consumers Union group commissioned two years ago, 95 percent of consumers said food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled.
Strong Public Opposition
The population at large does not trust or approve of genetically altered food. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, claims seventy-eight percent of adults surveyed don’t want genetically engineered salmon. And nearly 200,000 comments opposing GM salmon have been posted on the Center for Food Safety (CFS) website. In a poll conducted by Lake Research, 91 percent of Americans believed the FDA should not allow genetically engineered fish or meat into the marketplace.
The Center for Food Safety claims 40 Representatives and Senators have requested the Food and Drug Administration halt the approval of AquaBounty transgenic salmon. “Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) led 29 Members of the House of Representatives in asking the FDA to halt the approval process of AquaBounty GE salmon in a letter to FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg.”
The FDA’s anticipated approval is based exclusively on the limited and inadequate studies conducted by AquaBounty Technologies. The FDA claims AquaBounty’s Franken-Salmon poses no harm to consumers because the company has proven that the genetically engineered salmon have the same nutrients, fatty acids and minerals as conventionally grown salmon.
Hansen with Consumers Union disagrees. “They need more data. They need more data on the allergy question, and I think most any allergy scientist would say the same thing.” Hansen adds that fish are one of the top five foods people are most allergic to and the sample size used in the testing was far too small — six fish in all — to determine whether consumers could be allergic.
Hansen and his group pointed out that “the FDA approval panel is mostly comprised of GE cheerleaders, with no fish ecologists or allergists” despite the AquaBounty tests suggesting the new GM salmon could be much more allergenic than regular salmon.
Hanson explained. “The company did incredibly small sample sizes in their studies. They made the kinds of mistakes that you would expect a freshman in high school—not a PhD fishery scientist—to make in research design. The largest sample size of the fish being proposed as food, examined for morphology, was 12 animals. They found that the skeletons are worse than in normal farmed salmon, that their jaws are eroded more than in normal farmed salmon, that their gills are enlarged and that their flesh is inflamed. But they say that it’s OK to eat.
“When they looked for possible allergic reactions, they examined 6 fish. The kind they’re proposing be sold as food is a sterile variety, which they compared to a genetically engineered fertile variety. The FDA said, ‘The allergic effects of the fertile one looked bad enough to keep it off the market, but the sterile one is okay.’ Well, this is sick fish, and the sample size is so small you can’t possibly say yes or no.”
In addition to the allergen problem, there’s evidence that AquaBounty’s GM salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, as well as more antibiotics.
Inferior Flavor and Low Nutritional Value
Hanson chimes in again: “By the company’s own data, this fish has less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than regular farmed salmon in worse ratios. It tastes insipid. When you compare ordinary farm salmon to wild salmon, it doesn’t taste as good because it doesn’t have the fats that give the fish that good taste. The genetically modified salmon is not going to taste as good as even regular farm salmon. So basically everything you eat salmon for, it doesn’t have, or it’s got less of than any other kind of salmon.”
FDA is a Threat to Public Safety & The World at Large
With the exception of the web porn addicts at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FDA has finally etched its name permanently in stone as the federal organization famous for doing absolutely nothing to protect the public from predatory corporations.
Not only is there no definitive research available to determine the effects of GM salmon consumption on humans, many are concerned these GM altered fish are a potential threat to ordinary salmon if it is ever allowed to enter the wild. AquaBounty says not to worry because their salmon eggs are grown in incubator jars in a laboratory, and that the fish eggs will be sterile, and they will all be female.
But Lord Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the new technology is not worth the risk. “Once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these fish remain sterile. It poses far too great a risk to wild salmon. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits. There is no such thing as a free salmon lunch and we will pay the price,” he said.