On September 19 and 20, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held public meetings of its Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) to address safety issues associated with AquaBounty Technologies’ application to sell genetically engineered salmon that can grow nearly twice as fast as non-GE strains. If approved, the FDA could be adding unknown hazards on top of current ones posed by existing salmon farms (ie. overcrowded conditions, water pollution, fish parasite outbreaks, unsound use of antibiotics and hormones, higher heavy metal content than wild salmon, etc.).
A preliminary finding submitted by the FDA declared GE salmon to be safe for human consumption and unlikely to contaminate natural ecosystems. Unfortunately the FDA’s conclusions were based on flawed and insufficient data supplied by AquaBounty Technologies (ABT). And because GE salmon is viewed by the FDA as a New Animal Drug, the process isn’t focused on what happens to people who eat the GE organism, deliberations take place behind closed doors and ABT can classify much of the research and data it supplies to the FDA as confidential. The FDA didn’t evaluate the human impact of the growth hormone because it’s a patented design and ABT’s limited study on possible allergic reactions involved only 6 fertile GE fish. According to Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, “The data presented, although woefully incomplete, do raise a potential serious human health issue—that of increased allergenicity. If this product (GE salmon) does increase the allergenic risk, it should not be approved. Data from a mere six salmon, which is all FDA presents, is not sufficient nor rigorous enough to conclude that no problem exists.”
ABT promises their GE salmon will be sterile and isolated from wild populations but such claims should be questioned. No one can truthfully guarantee 100 percent perfection in sterility, and it would take just one mistake to start the process of population decline of natural salmon. As for keeping GE organisms in total isolation, as Jean-Michel Cousteau put it, “The best containment systems are expensive enough to discourage even the most enthusiastic investor.” Despite their assurances, the biotech industry has failed to prevent GE seeds and pollen from spreading into the wild so why should anyone expect a different outcome for GE fish?
Over 300 consumer, health, animal welfare, environmentalist, fishery, chef, and food retailer groups submitted joint letters to the FDA opposing the approval of AquaBounty’s GE salmon. In addition, the Center for Food Safety and a coalition of allied groups submitted over 160,000 statements from individuals against the approval. The FDA’s approval process is also being closely monitored by companies that have invested millions of dollars in developing other GE fish and livestock. The biotech industry often sells such genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the public as the solution to the problem of world hunger but data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other studies suggests that the primary cause of global hunger and malnutrition is extremely unequal distribution of wealth and resources, not insufficient food production. The money and ingenuity wasted on profits for a few corporations (which is what GE foods are really about) would be more wisely spent on protecting habitats that regenerate biodiverse wild species, raising non-GE plants and animals in a manner that’s sustainable and humane, and developing economic systems that can effectively distribute healthy food.
The FDA held a separate hearing on September 21 to discuss whether GE salmon should be labeled. Despite publicly stating they will not require labeling of GE salmon, the FDA opened a 60-day public comment period on the labeling issue that closes on November 22, 2010. After that they will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact or an Environmental Impact Statement which will determine whether or not they approve the salmon. If approved, it will take approximately 2 years for the GE fish to get to market. In the meantime, Food and Water Watch have provided this convenient online petition to send a message about GE salmon to the FDA through local representatives:
Also, don’t forget to support local fishmongers and food producers providing non-GE foods. It’s ultimately up to us to make sure we don’t consume “frankenfish” and other GMOs nor give money to recklessly profit-obsessed corporations.
Would You Eat Genetically Altered Salmon? (GMO Journal on Food Safety Politics, Deniza Gertsberg, 9/8/2010)
GE salmon needs more data before approval (Consumers Union,9/17/2010)
GE Fish: A Threat Disguised as a Solution to World Hunger (Organic Consumers Association/Environmental News Network, Jean Michel-Cousteau, 6/2/2000)
FDA Committee (VMAC) Split on Recommendations about Controversial Genetically Engineered Salmon (Center for Food Safety, 9/21/2010)
FDA refuses to require labeling of genetically modified salmon (NaturalNews.com, Mike Adams, 9/27/2010