Would You Eat Genetically Altered Salmon?

AquAdvantage® salmon grows twice as fast as regular salmon.

AquAdvantage® salmon grows twice as fast as regular salmon, but it's safety is questionable.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) preliminary safety analysis of the AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically engineered fish developed by Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc. (“ABT”), is that the GE salmon “is as safe as food from conventional salmon.”  ABT’s GE salmon has 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.  In a preliminary finding submitted ahead of three day hearings to be held by the FDA between September 19-21, the agency said it saw “no biologically relevant differences” in vitamins, minerals or fatty acids.   The preliminary analysis also concluded that ABT’s facilities have “adequate containment measures” so that there is, according to FDA, “a very low probability of escape for all life stages of salmon present.”

So when it comes to GE salmon, the Agency wants you to believe, in the words of Bob Marley, Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

But concerns about the health and environmental impact of GE salmon persist. A coalition of 31 consumer, animal welfare and environmental groups, along with commercial and recreational fisheries associations and food retailers recently submitted a joint statement criticizing the FDA’s position. Among the many concerns are the problems of escape of GE salmon which threaten the wild salmon population and the natural food chain.

Furthermore, although FDA preliminary concluded that GE salmon is safe for human consumption, its own papers indicate that certain of ABT’s studies “have technical flaws” or provide “insufficient data” and suggest that ABT conduct additional studies prior to commercialization of GE salmon.   The study on changes in the morphology of the new GE salmon, for example,  involved only 12 fish and the limited study on possible allergic reactions involved only 6 fertile GE fish and 6 infertile fish.  The agency also did not evaluate the impact of the growth hormone because it is a patented design and will only “be evaluated at a subsequent step of the hierarchical review process.”  Even more alarming is the fact that ABT’s Chief Executive Ronald Stotish admitted that the company “has done no animal or human clinical trials.”

GE salmon may be the first GE animal to to be sold as food but there there are other biotech animals that will either seek FDA approval or have already obtained one. If GE salmon is approved it will pave the way for ABT’s GE trout and tilapia.   There is also Enviropig, a pig engineered with a mouse protein that affects its saliva, and, as the name suggests, the animal is mutated to create more environmentally friendly manure by reducing the amount of phosphorous the pig excretes after eating cereal grain.

Development is also underway for Mad Cow Resistant Cattle that would be resistant to “mad cow” disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). The GE cow is said to be developed by “knocking out” the prion protein gene that can trigger the mad cow disease.

GM Goats were approved in February 2009 to produce an anti-clotting therapy for people with a rare disorder called hereditary antithrombin deficiency. The drug, Atryn, is made with human protein from female goats bred to express it in their milk.

And finally, there is Glofish, a zebra danio genetically altered with fluorescent colors developed using a fluorescent protein gene that occurs naturally in other marine organisms. The FDA said it had no reason to regulate as it was not intended for food and allegedly caused no environmental threat.

Whether GE salmon will be labeled is yet to be determined.

Would you put GE salmon on your plate?  Let us know what you think.