The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released an official Environmental Assessment on genetically engineered salmon, signaling the Obama Administration is close to approving the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption.
The AquAdvantage® salmon, a genetic combination of Atlantic Salmon, Chinook, and the Ocean Eelpout, was developed by Massachusetts company AquaBounty Technologies as a fast-growing alternative to conventionally farmed Atlantic Salmon.
In theory, the AquAdvantage® salmon would increase farmed fish stocks and take pressure off wild populations. However, a number of consumer, health, and environmental groups have raised the alarm about potential risks to humans and aquatic ecosystems.
Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer's Union, called the FDA's research "woefully incomplete" - especially in light of potential allergy dangers present in the engineered fish.
The [report] states that the FDA has found that the salmon is safe to eat. However, we are deeply concerned that the potential of these fish to cause allergic reactions has not been adequately researched. FDA has allowed this fish to move forward based on tests of allergenicity of only six engineered fish—tests that actually did show an increase in allergy-causing potential."
Indeed, the FDA's own study on AquAdvantage® salmon shows that the genetically engineered fish is up to 40% more allergenic than the control group:
Initial evaluation of the results suggested that there may be an increase in the relative allergenic potency in the GE salmon compared to sponsor control salmon... data indicated that four GE fish had mean allergenic potency greater than 3.00 U/ml, with one fish having a mean allergenic potency value of 4.23 U/ml."
The report also contradicts FDA's official position that all of the GE fish would be sterile females and therefore unable to breed with wild populations. Page 115 shows that 5% of the genetically engineered fish were actually fertile.
While 5% may sound like an insignificant number, millions of these fish are projected to be farmed each year. That means there will be thousands of fertile fish in each batch that could potentially escape and cause widespread genetic contamination.
Fish farming, or aquaculture, does not have a perfect track record when it comes to escaped fish.
In 2007, an earthquake off the coast of Chile resulted in 12 million salmon escaping into the wild. If this were a batch of AquAdvantage® salmon, we could expect that upwards of 600,000 fertile fish would have been introduced into the wild from just this one accident.
In light of the flawed methodology and inadequacy of the aforementioned study, coupled with the potential for severe human and environmental impact, it is disturbing that the AquAdvantage® salmon has been put on the fast-track for approval. The Obama Administration should shelve approval of this genetically engineered salmon pending more comprehensive human and environmental impact studies.