Biotechnology has long modified living organisms according to human needs. Genetically modified organisms alas are common in many developed countries now. Fruits and vegetables look at us from the shelf and boast with their impeccable appearance. How about genetically engineered salmon though?
As we know, genetic modification involves the deletion or insertion of genes in the DNA structure of an organism. We have heard of or, even worse tasted, Monsanto’s triple-stack corn, Hawaii’s ringspot virus resistant papaya or the infamous grapple, an odd cross between a grape and an apple. Where does this craze end and then the inevitable question arises – Who are we to mess with nature? Consumers in the US have been particularly affected by the widespread use of genetically modified organisms. The arguments over transgenic plants have gone on for years now and many people do expect certain crops to fall under that category. What if one fine evening you went to a restaurant and found out that the salmon fillet you just devoured was a genetically modified monster?!
If the FDA gives the green light to genetically engineered salmon, it would be the first GE animal in the history of humanity intended for consumption. The engineered Atlantic salmon being considered was developed by AquaBounty Technologies, which artificially combined growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon, (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout (Zoarces americanus). This modification causes production of growth-hormone year-round, creating a fish the company claims grows at twice the normal rate. This could allow factory fish farms to crowd fish into pens and still get high production rates. Each year millions of farmed salmon escape from open-water net pens, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems. “We believe any approval of genetically modified salmon would represent a serious threat to the survival of native salmon populations, many of which have already suffered severe declines related to salmon farms and other man-made impacts,” Marianne Cufone, director of Food and Water Watch’s fish program said.
If the FDA opens this door, GE fish will likely be among the millions of salmon that currently escape from open ocean pens every year. This could be the last blow to wild salmon stocks and in turn the thousands of men and women who depend on fishing for their livelihoods. “Approving genetically engineered salmon is a sharp contradiction to the agreements the US has signed at NASCO, where transgenic salmonids are considered a serious threat to wild salmon” said Boyce Thorne Miller, Science and Policy Coordinator for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and accredited observer at the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization.
“Escaped genetically modified salmon can pose an additional threat – genetic pollution resulting from what scientists call the “Trojan gene” effect.” Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 generations! Anticipating the big danger to America’s fisheries and ocean environments – and trying to circumvent analyses of those dangers – AquaBounty has claimed that they will only raise their fish in land-based facilities. Yet, most salmon farmers in the real world ply their trade in low-lying coastal areas and competing corporations will no doubt race to produce genetically modified fish in crowded open ocean facilities already in use for fish production. Backsliding on its original claims, reports have circulated that AquaBounty may only suggest producers raise GE fish in “inland waters” – presenting novel threats to America’s lakes, rivers, and estuaries – many of which are already under attack by invasive fish species like the Asian carp and Northern snakehead.
“FDA’s decision to go ahead with this approval process is misguided and dangerous, and is made worse by its complete lack of data to review” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety. “FDA has been sitting on this application for 10 years and yet it has chosen not to disclose any data about its decision until just a few days before the public meeting.”
Recently, FDA officials announced that they had begun the approval process for the genetically engineered salmon and have scheduled public meetings beginning Sunday, September 19, 2010. Speakers wishing to present oral comments are expected to submit their requests in writing by September 7th; one day after the FDA has said it may post “some” of the data to its website. “This is not a process that leads to full and informed public participation,” said Charles Margulis, Sustainable Food Program Coordinator for the Center for Environmental Health. FDA announced the same day that it will hold a public comment period and a hearing on labeling for the transgenic salmon, which seems to presuppose that the controversial GE fish will be approved. If the GE fish is approved, Agency officials are undecided as to whether they will require any product labeling.
“We all know there is a great appetite for salmon, but the solution is not to ‘farm’ genetically engineered versions to put more on our dinner tables; the solution is to work to bring our wild salmon populations back” said Jonathan Rosenfield, PhD, a Conservation Biologist and President of the SalmonAID Foundation, a 28-member coalition of commercial, tribal, and sportfishing interests, conservation organizations and chefs. “The approval of these transgenic fish will only exacerbate the problems facing our wild fisheries.”
Genetically modified organisms have been banned in many countries in the European Union and increasingly more developing nations stand strong against it. It is bad enough that such a step is even considered, now facing its imminent approval, consumers in the US need to step back and unite against it. Each one of us is a drop but together we make up the ocean.
Credit: Excerpts from “Coalition Demands FDA Deny Approval Of Controversial Genetically Engineered Fish“, Center for Food Safety