Genetic Engineering of Salmon a Threat to the Species

On January 18th, 2011, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), addressing the Marine Science Symposium in
Anchorage, Alaska said that one of his top priorities in this congressional session would be legislation to
stop the FDA from approving the sale of genetically-engineered salmon (GE) fish for human consumption.
As the FDA decides whether to allow AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon to be sold in the
United States, there are increasing concerns from a number of sources about the safety and reasons for
the genetic alteration of salmon as a food source and the genetic engineering of animals overall for food
and medicine.
AquaBounty's genetically altered salmon which adds a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a
gene from an eel like fish, the ocean pout, causing the salmon to grow more quickly, is the first
submission for approval for sale of genetically engineered animals for food in the United States. Ìt is
assumed that the approval by the FDA will open the floodgates to a large number of genetically
engineered animals being produced for use as food or medicines. AquaBounty also is currently
developing a genetically engineered trout and a genetically engineered tilapia. Companies in the U.S. and
other countries are working to develop other genetically engineered fish as well as cows and pigs.
The FDA has received an outpouring of negative response from politicians, the scientific community and
the public, concerned about possible FDA approval of the AquaBounty genetically engineered salmon
and the genetic engineering of animals for food and medicine generally.
Senator Begich, along with ten members of the Senate, and Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR),
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), along with 29 members of the House of
Representatives, sent separate letters to the FDA asking them to halt the approval, and to address the
serious problems with the FDA's approval process. Over 300 environmental and public health groups
signed letters to the FDA opposing the approval.
The FDA requested input from the National Academies of Science about possible science based
concerns about the genetic engineering of animals. The National Academies of Science stated in their
response, that in many of the genetically engineered animals, "the genetic engineering often resulted in
unplanned anatomical, physiological or behavior abnormalities.¨
The FDA's 2008 document regarding the commercial approval of genetically engineered animals, the
"Guidance of Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals¨, resulted in almost 29,000 public comments
in response. The FDA noted that of these comments, "the vast majority opposed the genetic engineering
of animals.¨
Another issue that has been raised is the FDA's classification of the genetically engineered salmon, and
all other genetically engineered animals as a drug rather than a food product, although they are being
sold as food products. This classification serves to bypass the regulatory requirement that forms the base
for the FDA's oversight of animals that will be used for food to monitor the animal's health in order to
assure the health of the U.S. food supply. The allowance of the genetic engineering of animals, which is
more likely to harm the animal's health and their suitability as a food source was one of the concerns that
the FDA noted was raised in their public as well as scientific responses regarding the genetic engineering
of animals. Ìn addition, there are concerns that genetically engineered animals may cause allergic
reactions in sensitive people.
Calling them "Frankenfish¨, Senator Begich likened the genetically engineered salmon to a "monster that
threatens our wild stocks and their habitat, our food safety and economic harm to Alaska wild salmon
The risk of the genetically engineered salmon threatening the native Atlantic salmon population is one of
the greatest concerns about the approval of the genetically engineered salmon. AquaBounty stated in
their application for approval to the FDA that they will use two containment methods to assure that the
Alaska wild salmon population would not be at risk; sterilizing the genetically engineered salmon eggs
that will be produced on Prince Edward Ìsland in Canada, and physical containment where the fish will be
grown in Panama.
AquaBounty has stated that they would be complying with the regulatory guidelines of each country
where they are involved. Although the Canadian government must be notified before any genetically
engineered animals can be imported or commercially manufactured in Canada and an assessment done
to assure that they are not a threat to the environment, Leo Broderick, vice chair of the Council of
Canadians, as part of a larger coalition of public action groups in Prince Edward Ìsland, said that neither
AquaBounty nor Environment Canada have responded to requests as to whether an environmental risk
assessment is being done. The group has asked Prince Edward Ìsland Premier, Robert Ghiz, to press
Environment Canada for more transparency.
Even if the containment methods were being implemented fully, there are concerns about the
effectiveness of both means of containment. The sterilization means of containment that AquaBounty will
be using, Triploidy chromosomal sterilization, is less than 100% effective.
The FDA is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in order to decide whether
the approval would pose a danger to wild Atlantic salmon. Ìn FSW documents made public in a Freedom
of Ìnformation Act request, by the organization, Food and Water Watch, government officials expressed
doubts that the containment methods will keep the genetically engineered salmon from threatening wild
Atlantic salmon. They also raised other concerns about the genetic engineering of the salmon in general.
The internal FSW documents questioned the FDA's ability to decide about the threats to the native
Atlantic salmon population, saying that the process presented a situation, "where FDA, whose jurisdiction
is not focused on natural resources is entrusted with the authority to approve an application which poses
such a threat to the country's natural resources.¨
Ìn a letter summing up it's recommendations to the FDA, the FSW, noted that there were "several
unknowns and uncertainties regarding possible genetic, ecological and environmental effects of
AquaAdvantage salmon that must be elucidated before an environmental risk assessment can be
thoroughly evaluated and approved.¨ Which, said the FSW, "suggests that the approval of AquaBounty
Technologies' request for commercial rearing of AquaAdvantage was premature.¨

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