RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—After nearly a year of silence on the issue of genetically engineered salmon, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week essentially approved the controversial fish and passed its recommendations to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final approval, reports the Talking Points Memo.
The agency completed its environmental impact statement on the fish and sent it to the White House along with "a written a document supportive of its commercialization on the U.S. market," Talking Points reports. But the findings weren't released to the public, says Colin O'Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that opposes genetic modification. "One of the biggest problems most people have with internal review at the White House is that we don't know what they're considering," he says. "And last year, FDA said that a minimal environmental review would be sufficient." That's bad news, considering all the havoc genetically engineered fish could wreak on the environment and human health.
The Problems with Frankenfish
More than 80 percent of the world's fish stocks have been so overharvested, they qualify as either depleted, threatened, or endangered, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and genetically engineered salmon was "invented" as a way to counteract the damages associated with the public's rising demand for healthy seafood. Well-intentioned as that may sound, man-made fish will neither solve the environmental problems associated with overfishing, nor will it offer the public a healthier alternative to what's already on store shelves.
AquaBounty's "AquAdvantage" salmon will be raised in fish farms that, even when raising native breeds, cause significant environmental damage. They essentially operate as underwater factory farms, with thousands of fish swimming in their own waste, which in turn requires high doses of antibiotics. The fish are prone to escape, and when they do, they compete with wild fish for food, and they breed with those fish, slowly rendering wild fish populations extinct (fish farms raising farmed Atlantic salmon have already decimated wild Atlantic salmon stocks). Though AquaBounty claims that its fish are sterile, the company's own documents show that as much as 5 percent of the GE fish could be fertile and could reproduce if the fertile specimens escape, says O'Neil. And once you let a genetically modified fish into the wild, there's no recalling those man-made genetic creations.
The fish are also genetically engineered to grow 30 times faster than a regular salmon and, as such, they eat more. It already takes four pounds of wild fish to feed a pound of farmed fish, and their rapid growth rate will likely require more than that (so much for solving the problem of overfishing).
These fish are also less healthy than wild Alaskan salmon or even farmed Atlantic salmon. The few studies that have been done on these genetically engineered fish have shown that they contain lower levels of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than either form of regular salmon. These fish are also notably deficient in certain vitamins, O'Neil adds. There's also a great deal of concern that genetically modifying salmon could increase the incidence of seafood allergies among the public.