Action Alert: Genetically Modified Frankenfish!August 31, 2010
Coming to you soon—and you probably won’t know that you’re eating it.
Genetically modified salmon—the first GMO animal for human consumption—is reaching the final stages in its approval. Most terrifying: they might not have to tell us if our fish is GM or not!
This week the FDA announced a 60-day period of consultation and public hearings over whether to permit a genetically modified strain of salmon (“frankenfish” to its critics) to be eaten by humans. The approval process could take less than a year, and if it gets the green light the fish could be on the market in eighteen months.
There are two sets of hearings: whether the FDA should approve this “new animal drug application,” and whether the fish (if approved) must be labeled as genetically engineered or not. Because it is new ground for the FDA and there are no regulations about genetically engineered animals, it is being evaluated as if it were an animal treated with drugs.
AquAdvantage Salmon, designed to grow twice as fast as traditional fish, is an Atlantic salmon containing the Chinook salmon growth hormone gene, plus an antifreeze protein gene from the ocean pout—an eel-like creature from a different family of marine organisms.
The fish has been created by AquaBounty Technologies of Boston, Massachusetts, and was developed over the past fourteen years at a cost of $50 million. The explanation of the genetic modification on the company’s publicity literature, aimed at reassuring the public, makes no mention of the ocean pout gene: “The chinook growth hormone is the same as the Atlantic salmon growth hormone; it is simply regulated differently. Their ability to grow faster does not change the biological make-up of the fish.”
AquaBounty says the fish will be raised in inland waters to ensure that the modified salmon do not enter the oceans. The GM salmon will also be sterile, which eliminates the threat of interbreeding among themselves or with native populations, eliminating the risk to wild populations or the environment.
ANH-USA has consistently opposed genetically modified organisms because of both the documented and the unknown health risks. If GMO products are approved, however ANH-USA strongly supports labeling. We do not have true health freedom if we are prevented from choosing non-GMO foods—which is precisely the result if there are no labels indicating that a particular food has been genetically modified. We do not like untested, new-to-nature substances being forced onto us, but we value the freedom of conscious consumer choice even more.
Eric Hallerman, head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Virginia Tech University, said, “This is the threshold case. If it’s approved, there will be others. If it’s not, it’ll have a chilling effect for years.”
One question the hearings will try to determine is whether and how AquaBounty salmon is “materially different” from regular Atlantic salmon. In past hearings on GMOs, the FDA has never found that genetic engineering in itself constitutes a material difference, and the FDA cannot require labeling based on differences in the production process if the resulting products are not materially different.
Any specific scientific data that might support material differences for this GM salmon will be released anywhere from two weeks to two days before the hearing, which will hardly be enough time for thorough scientific evaluation. The FDA says that if the Agency is unable to provide the materials before the meeting, they will be available at the hearing! This says it all about the FDA’s bias. Can you imagine telling a prosecutor or defense lawyer that the evidence would be withheld until the trial?
The problem, of course, is that we don’t yet know what negative health effects such bio-engineering might cause in the salmon. We do know that genetically modified foods affect the human physiology in negative ways. One example: Filipinos who ate GMO corn found that their bodies developed antibodies to Bt toxin—that is, their bodies processed the corn’s engineered traits into their guts and reacted to them. These same consumers also developed a resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin.
Moreover, there are significant nutritional differences between GM and non-GM foods generally:
- GMO soybean varieties produce greater amounts of oleic acid than other soybean varieties. The FDA even acknowledged the differences in the oil they produce, concluding that the term “soybean oil” no longer adequately described the nature of the food but that a term like “high oleic acid” would be required to appear as part of the name of the oil.
- Roundup Ready beans were significantly lower in protein and amino acid, according to Jeffrey Smith in his book Genetic Roulette.
- In 1996, animal tests proved that there was a severe danger from genes spliced from Brazil nuts and soybeans—allergic reactions so severe that the individuals could suffer anaphylactic shock, possibly leading to death.
- We recently reported to you that GM soy made hamsters sterile, but that the effect did not hit until the third generation, a frightening thought if it applies to humans.
One major problem is that the FDA has historically rushed to approve genetically modified products that are later found to be dangerous. For example, the Flavr Savr tomato was genetically engineered in the early 1990s by Calgene Inc. (now owned by Monsanto); it was designed to stay fresh on store shelves longer than regular tomatoes. Even though the FDA’s own scientific advisers were concerned over Calgene’s findings, which showed stomach lesions in lab rats that ingested the GM tomato, the Flavr Savr went to market!
The FDA should certainly have required the Flavr Savr to be labeled as GM: not only were there significant “material differences” between it and a non-GM tomato in terms of its taste, its risk of fungal diseases, and other physical problems, but more importantly, the Flavr Savr tomato was never deemed safe. According to biologist Arpad Pusztai, “the claim that these GM tomatoes were safe as conventional ones is at best premature and, at worst, faulty.” The tomato was withdrawn from the market in 1997.
In the case of the GM salmon, there are two different FDA hearings—one on the AquAdvantage product, and one on the need for a labeling requirement—so we need your help with a two-pronged Action Alert. Please contact the FDA and voice your opinions on genetically modified salmon and on full disclosure in labeling. As always, we’ve drafted sample letters to help you. Please TAKE ACTION now!
TO SEND YOUR MESSAGE TO THE FDA ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED SALMON
Click THIS LINK to go to the AquAdvantage Salmon Hearing
TO SEND YOUR MESSAGE TO THE FDA ON LABELING FOR GMO FOODS
Click THIS LINK to go to the
Once there, fill out the form with your name and address, etc., and customize your letter. We have a suggested message for you, but please feel free to add your own comments to the letter.
We’d also love to hear your comments about this article—just add your thoughts below—but remember that the messages below are only seen by our ANH-USA readers and not FDA.