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,
Much of the information on the health of GE salmon comes from examining just 12 fish over 2 weeks, with unhealthy fish excluded from the study. We do not know how many sick fish were killed as part of extensive culling practices, how frequently antibiotics were administered, or the effects of the genetic modification throughout the fish’s lifespan. There is evidence, however, that GE salmon are frequently deformed, are more likely to suffer from jaw erosions, inflammation, and lesions, and are more susceptible to disease. We also know that GE salmon are raised on aquaculture farms in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
This raises serious concerns about animal health and food safety, as well as FDA’s ability to evaluate environmental impacts if the fish escape. This is not sound science, and even FDA admitted in 2010 that it was not possible to make any strong conclusions from such studies.
Officials at NOAA and FWS have not fully supported the decision to approve GE salmon, raising questions about FDA’s judgment. Concerns have been raised that AquaBounty’s methods to make GE fish sterile are not foolproof. FDA also admits that raising GE salmon in other locations or under other production methods could be risky for the environment and endangered wild salmon. Yet AquaBounty announced its intent to raise GE salmon in farms across the world if they receive this approval, and FDA may not have oversight.
It makes no sense to approve GE salmon, and take on all the risks involved, when other companies claim to produce salmon who grow just as fast without genetic engineering. Producing GE fish puts consumers, the environment, and the animals at risk unnecessarily, and they should not be approved for sale.