The Case against Genetically Modified Salmon
03 Oct, 2010
“If I took this story to a sci-fi writer, he or she would say, ‘No, my editor won’t let me publish this. It’s too crazy even for fiction.’”
So Jaydee Hanson, Policy Analyst on Cloning and Genetics at the Center for Food Safety, told Organic Connections. And it’s no exaggeration.
In a nutshell—or, or more fittingly, in a seashell—it goes like this: A company called AquaBounty Technologies develops a genetically engineered salmon. The scientific investigation as to food safety and environmental impact—conducted by the company itself—uses self-serving “science” to defend its position. But even the tiny sampling of fish used in the studies, according to Hanson, shows that it has numerous defects and flaws, as well as reduced nutrition and taste when compared with common-market farmed salmon. Nonetheless, the Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will potentially approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered faster-growing fish for human consumption.
Consumers have certainly been reacting to this corporate-profit-over-public-safety scenario. Since the decision now in front of the FDA became public, nearly 200,000 comments opposing it have been posted on the CFS website. And not long ago a nationwide poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for Food and Water Watch, found that 91 percent of Americans polled believe the FDA should not allow genetically engineered fish or meat into the marketplace.
So, too, have politicians been voicing their concerns. According to a recent article posted on ge-fish.org, a website published by the Center for Food Safety to address this specific issue, 40 representatives and senators have called on the FDA to halt approval of genetically engineered salmon.
Although the FDA held a formal hearing on September 19, it has yet to announce its decision. Fortunately, there is a public comment period lasting until November 22—and the already plentiful comments are expected to mount. The site where you can add your remarks is listed at the end of this article.
They Blinded the FDA with “Science”
“The FDA asked AquaBounty Technologies to produce food safety and environmental data on the animals,” 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.”
Apparently the opinions of expert advisors have little effect on the FDA. “The FDA has to have a veterinary medicine advisory committee look at the data,” Hanson said. “Nearly all of them said the scientific data was inadequate. However, it is an advisory committee. The FDA doesn’t have to take their advice; it could still approve the fish.”
No Label, Says FDA
Following the approval hearing, which the FDA has already conducted, a hearing was held regarding the labeling of genetically modified salmon. “The FDA is arguing that this genetic construct is just the same as natural constructs, and therefore it doesn’t need to be labeled because it’s the same thing that we’ve been eating,” Hanson said.
Nutritionally and flavor-wise, the fish gets low marks. “By the company’s own data, this fish has less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than regular farmed salmon in worse ratios,” Hanson argued. “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.”
The environmental safety of areas surrounding the breeding areas for the genetically engineered salmon has also not been addressed properly, according to Hanson.
“The FDA is recommending what they call ‘approval with limits,’” said Hanson. “The limits are the company has to grow the fertile fish to produce the eggs that they then sterilize up at Prince Edward Island, Canada—which is in the middle of the Bay of Fundy where Atlantic salmon have historically been. The company says that mixing in with wild fish won’t be a problem because they’re sterilizing the fish; but even their own data says that, at best, 98 percent of these are sterile.
“Then they say that their facility is far enough back from any water that there’s no problem of cross-contamination. Well, they are 120 feet from tidal waters. Then they say that they’re at a high enough elevation that it’s no problem. They’re at 23 feet. I went down to look at the Gulf Coast after Katrina and there was a storm surge over 40 feet. In the environmental assessment, the company says that shouldn’t be a problem because no large storms ever hit Prince Edward Island. They’re right on the North Atlantic, famous for storms, and they had the tail end of a hurricane hit the week before the FDA hearing.”
Food Safety Advocates
The good news is the Center for Food Safety has become involved. On the front lines of battle against genetic modification, the organization has already succeeded in halting the planting of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets, pending full environmental impact studies.
The stopping of genetically modified salmon is a key issue of which CFS is fully aware.
“This is just a way for them to get a running start on genetically modifying animals,” Hanson concluded. “AquaBounty has two other fish it wants approval on: one a trout and one a tilapia. These are of the same genetic machinery. I think their thought is if they get the salmon approved it should be easy to get the other fish approved.
“Elsewhere, the University of Guelph in Canada has developed a pig with a gene from a fungus introduced into it that breaks down phosphorous. Their idea is this pig could be crowded together with other pigs and not produce as much pollution. They’re calling it the ‘enviro-pig.’
“Yet another company has actually developed what they call a mad-cow-resistant cow—to which I say, we already know how to keep cows from getting mad cow disease: don’t feed them ground-up sheep!”
Visit http://ge-fish.org to get the latest in the fight against genetically modified salmon and to find out how you can help.
For more information on the Center for Food Safety and their projects, visit http://truefoodnow.org.