Genetically-modified salmon on your dinner table soon?


It is possible that the FDA and Health Canada may be approving a GMO Atlantic salmon for human consumption in the near future.

Genetic modification came onto my radar again this past month due to news that the FDA is considering approval for the first time ever, of a genetically-modified flesh-food for human consumption – GMO Atlantic salmon. It is very easy to forget that GMO foods exist as they are unlabelled in North America, yet many of us are eating foods that contain GMO ingredients many times a day since they are in 70 to 75% of foods in the grocery store. Any non-organic foods that have ingredients made from corn, (high-fructose corn-syrup, corn starch, corn oil, pop corn etc.), soy (soy lecithin, soy oil, soy milk etc.) or canola are most certainly GMO. And of course, grain-fed cows are usually fed GMO corn – another reason to choose grass-fed!

The biotech company AquaBounty Technologies, that invented and is patenting “AquAdvantage Salmon", genetically engineered it to grow much more quickly and much larger than the typical Atlantic salmon by inserting the Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) genes of a chinook salmon and the antifreeze genes of the pout fish (an eel) into its DNA.

AquaBounty, whose corporate headquarters are in Waltham Mass., side-stepped the FDA rules by growing the fish for US consumption in Canada and in Panama. In this way they are able to avoid the US environmental assessments, and the FDA is relying on private consultants hired by the company in order to determine environmental safety.

We can’t really know at this early stage if there is any risk to human health from eating these GMO salmon that have extra IGF-1 genes. But we do know that in the States, Bovine Growth Hormone fed to cattle means IGF-1 gets into the milk.(Bovine Growth Hormone is banned in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan). We know that IGF-1 accelerates puberty, and we also know that girls are going through puberty at younger and younger ages these days. IGF-1 is also linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer. So, at what point should we start getting worried about the cumulative effects of IGF-1 in the various edible food-like substances (Michael Pollan's word) that are coming into the market?

The environmental risk may also be significant. Because these GMO salmon are so big, should they escape they would be very attractive to the wild Atlantic salmon. Although they are bred to be sterile, apparently about 1% are viable, and they would contaminate the wild stocks. Also the 99% that are sterile and mating with the wild salmon would mean that a lot of salmon fry don’t hatch potentially devastating the stocks. We know that escaped farmed Atlantic-salmon damaged wild Pacific-salmon stocks, and none of those salmon were GMO.

I am personally very uncomfortable with the idea of a company being allowed to patent a life-form, thus "owning" it for profit. Despite concerted efforts to prevent it, fish escapes are bound to happen. So, in a worst case scenario, AquaBounty would have the legal right go after fishers who catch escaped or hybridized GMO salmon in their nets. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that AquaBounty could eventually claim to own the entire Atlantic salmon fishery.

Sounds crazy? We only need to look to Monsanto, the biotech giant in the States, to see what happens when "life" becomes proprietary. Monsanto has forced its patent rights on farmers who had no intention of growing GMO crops, but were unlucky enough to have their crops contaminated by the GM seeds that the wind carried onto their fields. Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer was sued by Monsanto for exactly that. He fought the case all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, that ruled that Monsanto’s patent was valid. Chilling in my opinion, as a farmer has no control over the wind.

If this salmon gets FDA and Health Canada approval it is unlikely that it will be labelled GMO, as the FDA and the biotech companies realize that most people won’t purchase it if they know it is genetically modified. Best to keep the consumer in the dark to ensure sales. So as consumers, we will have another reason to only purchase wild salmon, although even they might be contaminated if there were an escape.

US Senator, Mark Begich, along with 10 other senators are trying to stop the FDA from approving GMO salmon for human consumption. If you are a US or Canadian citizen and you want this stopped, perhaps talk to your government representative.

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Related tips:
GMO – crossing the species barrier
Deceptive food labelling

Environmental Assessment for AquAdvantage Salmon Submission to the FDA

VMAC Briefing Packet for AquAdvantage Salmon Submission to the FDA

Lawmakers Make Move To Stop Genetically Modified Salmon Approval Medical News Today, Sept. 29, 2010

Genetically Modified Salmon Safe, FDA says CBC News, Sept. 10, 2010

Schmidt, Sarah Developer of genetically engineered salmon eyes Canadian regulators The Gazette, Montreal, August 27, 2010

Heavey, Susan FDA panel to consider GMO salmon: The first genetically modified animal could move one step closer to the U.S… Scientific American, Sept. 20, 2010

Margulis, C AquaBounty GMO Salmon paid for by Canadian Taxpayers Society for a GE Free BC, Sept. 9, 2010

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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