Genetically Engineered Salmon: Coming to a Plate Near You? | Civil Eats

Genetically Engineered Salmon: Coming to a Plate Near You?

The genetically modified salmon called AquAdvantage was discussed on Monday in front of the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, which will help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide whether or not to approve the fish for commercial production. The meeting comes after an unusually short 14-day period of public comment on the “new animal drug.”

That’s right: the first potentially approved genetically engineered animal is being considered just like a pharmaceutical, instead of as a precedent with significant implications for the environment, other species, and human health, which would usually require a 60-90-day comment period to enable the public to go over the 255-pages of recently released technical information from the FDA.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, criticized the decision in a letter to the agency dated September 15th. “Since GE salmon is not in any way a lifesaving product such as certain pharmaceuticals or medical devices,” the group wrote, “we must question why the agency believes it is necessary to move forward so quickly, in a way that does not allow for the standard 60 to 90 days of public review.”

Consumers Union also criticized the make-up of the committee, which they suggested should have included “three fish ecologists, four food safety experts (including specialists in food allergies and in the effects of hormones on human health), and scientists from the consumer and environmental community.” Sourcewatch gives details on the committee members, while Jill Richardson provides bios for the temporary voting members on the committee, which includes a former employee of Monsanto and one non-scientist consumer representative.

Unlike clones, which are copies of an animal and which the FDA has already ruled safe to eat, genetically modified animals are those which have had their genetic code altered. The AquAdvantage salmon, for example, mixes a gene for producing a growth hormone from the Chinook salmon and a gene that encourages over-production of that hormone from an eel-like fish called the ocean pout.

After presentations by witnesses supporting the fish’s approval, consumer groups, scientists and others were given the chance to speak on the record. A re-occurring theme included discussion of the fact that AquaBounty Technologies, the company behind the petition, had control over the studies the FDA was now looking over instead of conducting studies based on the FDA’s established guidelines. Second, that the scope of the plans for the AquAdvantage salmon’s production would by necessity be bigger than the small tank facility in Panama that was presented in the documents. Many groups asked that the FDA request and Environmental Impact Statement  with consideration of the effects on larger-scale ecosystems, the fear being that the salmon could escape and compete with already-endangered wild salmon populations.

The FDA has already ruled that the genetically modified AquAdvantage salmon is safe to eat, and yet during the public comment period, many speakers focused on the shoddy science, small sample size, and the potential for allergic reactions. Another topic brought up during the hour of public comment was the lack of sufficient data on health concerns about modifying the fish to produce four times more of the growth hormone iGF-1, which has been tied to increased risks of cancer.

The committee had very few questions for the speakers during the public comment period, aside from taking interest in a poll by Food and Water Watch, which found that 78 percent of consumers do not approve of genetically engineered salmon. This coincides with the findings the Washington Post received when it asked its readers, “If genetically engineered salmon wins FDA approval, will you buy it?” to which 78 percent responded “No. I’m too concerned about potential health and environmental risks.”

The committee didn’t vote on anything yesterday. According to Andrew Pollack at the New York Times:

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Approval, if it comes, is likely to take at least several months. The F.D.A. said it would prepare an environmental assessment that would be open to comment for 30 days. If the agency decides that there could be a significant environmental impact—something that does not appear likely—it will have to do a full environmental impact statement, which could take months or years.

Today’s VMAC meeting on genetically engineered salmon will deal specifically with whether or not the GE salmon should be labeled. (You can give public comment on this issue until November 22, 2010, details at the previous link and below.) Consumers Union conducted a nationwide poll [PDF] in 2008 which revealed that 95 percent of consumers want genetically modified food labeled.

But as Lyndsey Layton reported in the Washington Post on Sunday, if the AquAdvantage salmon is approved it will most likely not be labeled as genetically modified, and thus will remain indistinguishable from other salmon at the supermarket. “The FDA says it cannot require a label on the genetically modified food once it determines that the altered fish is not “materially” different from other salmon–something agency scientists have said is true,” Layton writes.

And the opposite is also true–wild salmon will have trouble using packaging that claims the product to be “GE-free,” because the agency feels these types of labels imply a quality difference.

But the exact opposite is true abroad. Layton writes:

In the European Union and Japan, it is nearly impossible to find genetically modified foods, largely because laws require labeling, said William K. Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University. “No one wants to carry products with such a label,” he said. “The food companies figure that consumers won’t buy it.”

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If you feel empowered to speak out on this issue, Food and Water Watch suggests calling the White House. And you can still give your thoughts on the labeling question (and more, why not?) for AquAdvantage Salmon by identifying Docket No: FDA-2010 -N-0385 via or by writing:

Division of Dockets Management
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061
Rockville, MD 20852

Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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  1. elizabeth Redmond
    I dont understand the committee the FDA used. They used a Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC). It regulates the manufacture and distribution of food additives and drugs that will be given to animals. Who cares how the salmon does. Additionally the goals of the committee done address the health of humans as stated; The Sept. 19 session is an orientation for VMAC members on the technology of producing GE animals and the FDA’s regulatory process for evaluating these animals. On Sept. 20, the FDA will present information on animal health, food safety, environmental concerns, and data supporting the claim that AquAdvantage Salmon grow faster than conventionally bred Atlantic salmon. They nexer talk about public safety.
  2. JP
    Thank you for this very informative article. Why is it the US that insists on having such toxic food while others abroad seem to instinctively know it's wrong?
  3. This is why it is important for Americans to contact the White House and state your concerns. I am in Canada -- does anyone know if the same thing is happening here??? Let me know. As the incidence of all types of cancers is on the rise -- with almost every family now being touched by cancer -- we should be VERY WORRIED and contact our reps ASAP!!
  4. Walking Turtle
    @JP on September 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm: "Why is it the US that insists on having such toxic food while others abroad seem to instinctively know it’s wrong?"

    Because due to its nature, character and little-c constitution, the US-centric Dominant Capitalist Culture Elite has become blindly denial-ridden as to its own mortality AND its normal social responsibility toward its neighbors.

    Think this is not so? So open the eyes and look how it seeks to force itself upon all other human cultures in this world, even to the extinction of all others and the imposition of Continuous Warfare in the place of peaceful productivity-for-use as all *sane* societies always do!

    Fact: America's formerly middle-class workers are today's New Unwanted. Their elite-serving "Public Servants" will do as they are told, no matter the cancer rate. Their MD Doctors take their cues and direct orders from the top down as well, public well-being be damned and destroyed; no matter.

    Since sweeping Population Reduction (a major New World Order objective from the start) will surely be met with armed resistance if undertaken overtly here in the US, the Infandous Elite has clearly decided to fall back on all manner of Pretty Poison to do their murderously dirty deed. (Remember the Baxter/Novartis Weaponized Bird Flu Innoculation that was stealth-marketed as a "vaccine"...?)

    Even simple cookie-cutter-grade medical care for common parasitic infections such as strongyles, helminths and sarcoptic mites is routinely denied here. The complaining knows-too-much patient is instead shunted off with No Cure Allowed, to be beaten down (at immense public cost, of course) by "Psychiatric Caregivers" on top of that denial.

    Meanwhile the schisto flukes invade the liver, the pin- and hook-worms block the digestive tract and invade the bloodstream, heart and brain. The patient eventually dies an entirely painful and utterly needless death. Everybody around them then throws the hands up with a sheepish "WHO KNEW???" when the now-deceased patient pointed the way from the start - and ANYONE could have Googled the REAL CURE right out of the woodwork if only they had TRIED!

    Yet in "developing" countries the hideous three-foot-long Guinea Worm is all but eradicated and "Norwegian Scabies" is practically unknown. Children who pick these invaders up are treqated promptly, safely and effectively. Antiparasitic agents of full effective potency have been available off-the-shelf in Europe for decades, but no no no, not in whitey-white-white America! (But you can have your store-bought salmon fillet with LOTS of Transgenic Growth Hormone, isn't THAT better...?)

    Fact: Two very inexpensive OTC veterinary drugs wipe out 95+% of all parasitic species (worms, bugs and flies, yes) in the human as well as the horse, cow and goat. Ivermectin for the bugs (and some worms) and Praziquantil for the worms (and some bugs). Did you know that?

    Fact: If ever they label that FrankenSalmon honestly, we (sure as Hell sucks) will NOT pay our money for it!

    Go figger, Kid. Maybe if we don't say anything more to therm, they'll at least leave the Buffalo alone a little while longer.
  5. Pretty soon we're going to be eating soylent green. This could be devistating to the environment.
  6. partha
    its good

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