As 2012 ended, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the last step towards approving genetically engineered (GE) salmon for sale in the U.S. The agency quietly announced the completion of an environmental assessment and concluded that GE fish would have no significant impact on the environment if approved.
FDA is currently accepting comments from the public before making its final decision, and we need your help to keep GE salmon off the market!
Developed by Aqua Bounty, these GE salmon supposedly grow twice as fast as other farmed salmon or those in the wild. However, this trait comes with serious health consequences. The company’s own data reveal that their GE salmon are typically unhealthy and are more likely to suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality. Additionally, GE salmon are raised on aquaculture farms where crowded, unsanitary conditions have been documented to cause numerous health problems. This raises serious concerns about animal health and welfare, food safety, and environmental risks if the fish escape.
Just as troubling is all that we don’t know about GE salmon. Despite AquaBounty having had years to gather relevant data, many of the animal health studies looked at just 12 fish, and intentionally excluded ones who were obviously unhealthy. The researchers assessed the health of the fish over only a one- to two-week period and neglected to investigate the effects of the genetic modification throughout the animals’ different life stages. The studies tell us nothing about how frequently antibiotics needed to be administered or how many fish had to be killed because they were deformed or diseased. All this calls into question the scientific and statistical validity of the data, and even FDA admitted in 2010 that it was not possible to draw strong conclusions from this information.
Aqua Bounty’s GE salmon would be the first ever genetically engineered animal to be sold as food. As such, it sets a precedent for how other GE animals might be approved, and there are already several other GE animals in the pipeline, including cows and pigs. Because of this, it is vital that high standards meant to protect animal health, consumers, and the environment are met.
FDA cannot have conducted a valid environmental assessment when it is based in part on such faulty studies. What’s more, AquaBounty’s methods for making GE salmon sterile, to prevent them from reproducing if they escape into the environment, are not foolproof. And FDA admitted that raising GE salmon in other locations or under other production methods would likely pose even greater risks for wild salmon, which are endangered, and the environment. Though AquaBounty has made it clear they intend to sell GE salmon to fish farms around the world, FDA would not necessarily have oversight of these farms to reduce risks.
It is perhaps for these reasons that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS), which have responsibility for protecting wildlife and ocean environments, seem to have doubts about approving GE salmon. Despite meeting with FDA eight times on GE salmon, NOAA was only able to state that they understand FDA’s actions better, not that they agree. And while FWS officially supports FDA’s plans, at least one FWS official has spoken out about his concerns with GE salmon,