Genetically modified salmon may be coming to a grocery store near you, the process for getting it there has been something of an upstream struggle. AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts, the biotech company seeking FDA approval for the GE fish, has submitted its own risk assessment to the agency. (Surprise! The AquaBounty science says that the frankenfish poses little threat to consumers or the environment.)
Last year the FDA pronounced GE salmon safe. Approval seemed eminent. But a raft of scientists, journalists, activist groups, concerned consumers, and even a few legislators are now lining up convince the FDA to take it a little slower.
In a debate hosted by National Public Radio on December 9, 2012, Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, a professor of sustainability science and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth attempted to discredit the science that Aquabounty had presented to the FDA. She noted gaps in the data and especially the statistical analysis, which, she said, “was really quite a low bar.”
In Congressional hearings this month, Dr. John Epifanio from the Illinois Natural History Survey; Dr. George Leonard , Director of the Ocean Conservancy Aquaculture Program, and journalist and author Paul Greenberg were all critical of the FDA’s plan to approve GE salmon. Dr. Epifanio testified that the FDA lacked the expertise to evaluate the environmental risks of GE salmon. Dr. Leonard observed that the FDA is not even asking the right questions about AquaBounty’s claims that its fish are all sterile and won’t escape into the wild. Senator Olympia Snowe suggested that other federal agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, should be formally included in the approval process. Greenberg asked the pointed question: Do we really need GMO salmon anyway? Read Eric Hoffman’s account of the Senate hearing on his blog at Friends of the Earth.
Many of the concerns about GE salmon rest on the environment dangers that escaped GE salmon may carry for our already struggling fisheries. The natural Atlantic salmon is already endangered. But there are risks for humans, too. The approval of the frankenfish would likely lead to the use of even more antibiotics in aquaculture, increasing the risks of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. Farmed salmon are given more antibiotics than any other livestock by weight, and the company’s own data shows the engineered frankenfish could be more susceptible to disease and require even more antibiotics. Proteins introduced through genetic engineering might also create new allergens. You can read an issue brief on the threats to the environment and to the public of GE salmon here.
If GE salmon is approved, it will be the first genetically modified animal to enter the human food supply. In all likelihood it will not be labeled, giving consumers no ability to identify the new frankenfish in supermarkets. Let’s hope that the FDA doesn’t rush a bad decision here at year’s end. Genetically modifed salmon would be a bad holiday surprise.
Tell Congress to keep GMO salmon off our plates.