Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft report on AquAdvantage® Salmon —a man-made creation that grows twice as fast as normal — that concluded they were safe for consumption and would have no adverse effects on the environment.
This report, which had been the subject of contentious debate the past two years, was released just a few days before Christmas. Interesting timing, according to critics, who note that the media’s attention is often elsewhere before the holidays.
The 158-page FDA report effectively paves the way for the commercial production of the first genetically modified animal approved as food in the world. To say this sets a dangerous precedent could be the understatement of the decade.
So what specific genetic modifications have been done to the AquAdvantage® Salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies? Well, according to AquaBounty’s website, this particular “product” (yes, it’s listed as a product) “includes a gene from the Chinook salmon, which provides the fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon.” Wikipedia provides more details, saying that the engineered salmon has been modified by the addition of a growth hormone from a Pacific Chinook salmon, as well as a promoter gene from an ocean pout. This combination is termed a “Frankenfish” by many, which can grow year-round versus only during spring and summer, as nature intended.
Proponents of this technology purport that man-made fish will help meet the rising demand for healthy seafood, and at the same time mitigate the environmental damage associated with overfishing. Opponents, however, counter both of those arguments, and then some. They say that fish farms are underwater factories where thousands of these creatures swim in their own waste, requiring high doses of antibiotics. On top of that, the few studies that have been done on these genetically engineered fish show that they contain lower levels of heart and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than natural salmon, and are more deficient in certain vitamins. Then there’s the concern of the increased incidence of allergies among the public, something that is being demonstrated both anecdotically and in studies with GMO fruits and vegetables.
As for the environmental piece of it, critics say that farmed fish are prone to escape and will compete with wild fish for food, while breeding with those same fish. AquaBounty claims that their fish “will be grown as sterile, all-female populations in land-based facilities,” so the chances of this happening are nil.
But the company’s own documents show that as much as five percent of their GMO fish could be fertile and reproduce if they escape.
When this happens, it will be more than an upstream battle to rein them in, it will be impossible. Then it’s just a matter of time before wild salmon populations are rendered extinct, along with the belief that man-made food could ever trump nature’s.
FDA’s Environmental Assessment Documents
- AquAdvantage Salmon Draft Environmental Assessment (PDF)
- AquAdvantage Salmon Preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact (PDF)
60-Day Comment Period
There is a 60-day period for public commentary on the genetically engineered salmon. To voice your opinion, go to the FDA’s website and make your voice heard!