Food safety advocates are launching one final effort to stop the FDA from approving genetically modified salmon. It would be the first laboratory-created animal approved as food in America. Until now, all FDA approved GM or GE foods have been plants like corn or soybeans. But with the final FDA hurdle approaching, GE salmon could be heading to your plate very soon.
“The biotechnology industry says it has genetically engineered a fish that grows at twice the normal rate, so it can get to market sooner and make more money, faster,” the consumer safety advocate Food & Water Watch says of genetically engineered salmon, “But this dangerous lab experiment is all hype and full of downsides to consumers, salmon growers and the environment.” The group also points out that at least 30 House members and 14 US Senators have written to the White House expressing their opposition to the addition of GE salmon into the nation’s food supply.
Emphasizing one of many concerns about creating a genetically engineered salmon species on such a large, industrial and commercial scale, Food & Water Watch quotes Denise Hawkins, PhD from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. In a statement describing the FDA’s lack of data on the subject, he writes, “Maybe they should watch Jurassic Park.”
The biotech company responsible for bringing the world a genetically engineered salmon is AquaBounty. They call their GE fish AquAdvantage Salmon. In a recent email to supporters, Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch says of the company, “AquaBounty, the biotech company responsible for bringing us GE salmon, used its own data to convince the FDA that this fish is safe to eat. Of course they think it’s safe: their profits are inextricably linked to its approval.”
“Our members of Congress are responsible to us as citizens,” Lovera writes, “which is why we’re asking you to email them directly. By reaching out to them, you are showing that Americans all across the country don’t want to see GE salmon swim into our local grocery stores.”
Food and Drug Administration
Prompting the urgency of food safety advocates, the FDA recently signed-off on the environmental safety of genetically engineered salmon. That leaves just one final FDA approval before a final 60 day countdown to its release into grocery stores begins.
Ironically, environmental safety was one of GE salmon’s opponents’ strongest arguments. They fear the genetically modified fish will escape their fisheries and infect natural salmon. Modified to grow at twice the normal rate, the effects of interbreeding between wild and GE salmon on a large scale are unknown.
They also argue that America’s fisheries weren’t able to contain Asian Karp as promised and now it’s all but wiped out other fish populations in half of America’s water ways. The Asian Karp has conquered every connecting river from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi as far north as Chicago. It is currently passing through the Chicago locks, left open by the Daley and Emanuel City Halls so as not to cut into the profits of local corporations that use Lake Michigan and the locks for shipping. Once the dominant Asian Karp passes through the Chicago bottleneck, it will enter all the Great Lakes.
Read the February 28, 2012 edition of this column titled, ‘US Supreme Court won’t save Great Lakes’ for the final details.
For its part, the Food and Drug Administration has been suffering from mounting criticism. As revealed in past approvals, the FDA doesn’t actually test or inspect many of the products it approves for human consumption. In fact, thousands of the foods we eat and drink everyday have never been brought before the agency for approval. In most cases, the chemicals and food additives are approved by the corporations themselves. It appears the case is similar for genetically engineered salmon.
Read ‘Corporations are approving Food Additives, not FDA’ for more information.
Adding insult to injury, the company bringing America its genetically modified salmon, AquaBounty, is outsourcing its production to Canada and Panama. The process will start in a laboratory on Prince Edward Island, Canada where the salmon eggs will be created. From there, they will be transported to Panama where they will finally be harvested and shipped back to the US and to any other countries that approve genetically modified salmon.
AquaBounty, the Massachusetts biotech company, created its GE salmon by taking an Atlantic salmon and adding the growth genes of a Chinook salmon to make it grow at a faster speed. Finally, the lab took the genes from an eel and added those, making the GE salmon grow all year round, also helping it to grow at twice the normal growth rate of a normal salmon.
According to a report by ABC News, AquaBounty admitted that while its GE salmon will be engineered to only include sterile females, there is a chance that as many as 5% of the fish could be fertile. There’s also a concern that genetically modified salmon could inadvertently cause allergies, much like other genetically modified foods are accused of doing. The outlet quoted one expert familiar with GE salmon saying that a certain protein is absent from the modified salmon that’s present in natural salmon.
Supporters and opponents alike are expecting the FDA to give GE salmon its final approval any time now. Critics are hoping a last-minute campaign to recruit behind the scenes Congressional help will stop genetically modified salmon from coming to grocery stores, possibly as soon as two months from now. Another less than generous hope is that the company, AquaBounty, goes bankrupt.
AquaBounty financial problems
As recently as one month ago, CBS News spoke to executives of AquaBounty about its genetically modified salmon and the company’s financial woes. Speaking to the drawn-out FDA approval process and all the negative PR from the GE salmon initiative, AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish claimed that his company was only 30 days away from requiring a cash infusion to stay afloat.
“It’s threatening our very survival,” he told CBS News, “We only have enough money to survive until January 2013, so we have to raise more. But the unexplained delay has made raising money very difficult.” Only days after the interview, AquaBounty announced that it had received a $500,000 loan from an existing investor. The loan would allow the company to stay afloat until March 2013.
Illustrating just how slow the FDA has moved, AquaBounty originally reached out to the FDA for approval in 1993. Without a process for evaluating and approving genetically modified animals for food, the FDA left the research and testing up to the corporation. When the FDA finally announced the process for applying 16 years later, AquaBounty was the first company in line. If GE salmon is approved by the FDA, it could be on consumers’ dinner plates as soon as 2 months from now.
For more information on the campaign to stop genetically modified salmon, visit Food & Water Watch.
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