Franken-Salmon on the Horizon

AquaBounty Technologies

On December 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they could find no valid scientific reasons to ban the production of GM AquAdvantage salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as ordinary fish. Since 1991, AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, has invested more than $67 million to develop the GM salmon, which uses Pacific Chinook salmon growth hormones to achieve rapid growth.

“[The] FDA has made the preliminary determination it is reasonable to believe that approval of the AquAdvantage salmon NADA will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States (including populations of endangered Atlantic salmon) when produced and grown under the conditions of use for the proposed action,” the organization stated.

The finding clears one of the last remaining hurdles for GM salmon to be lawfully sold and eaten in the U.S. and may prompt European nations to follow suit. Britain’s Sir John Beddington, the nation’s current chief scientist, stated that a “perfect storm” of growing human numbers, climate change and food shortages would make it “very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM.” Other supporters of the technology believe AquaBounty’s land-based fish farms will create easier, cheaper, more environmentally friendly salmon.

Opponents, however, argue that “Frankenfish” marks the beginning of creating GM animals solely for human consumption, a development that deeply undermines animal welfare concerns. Additionally, GM salmon could escape into the wild, interbreed with wild fish and undermine the genetics of the endangered Atlantic salmon.

In response, AquaBounty Technologies assures the fish will be only be grown as sterile females and kept in secure containers on land. The FDA agrees that the chance of GM salmon escaping into rivers and the sea from the land-based fish farms is “extremely remote.” But the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, question whether the FDA is relying too much on the fact that the engineered salmon would be 95% sterile females with the rest fertile.

“When you are talking about millions of fish, even 1% comes to thousands of fish. Moreover, perhaps even more important, the fish at the egg production facility in Prince Edward Island, Canada would obviously not be sterile—otherwise they could not produce eggs,” Hansen states. CU also expressed concerns about potential allergic reactions to the fish. The FDA will be accepting public comments for 60 days before finally deciding on whether or not to approve the salmon.

“Over 40 members of Congress and scientists at other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, have also voiced strong opposition to GE [genetically engineered] salmon, citing the lack of scientific rigor and expertise at the FDA,” Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, stated in a press release. “To add insult to injury, this product may be hitting the market without labeling, meaning that concerned consumers who have demanded labeling will be unable to identify GE from non-GE salmon. [Food & Water Watch] encourages everyone to contact their members of Congress and demand this reckless decision be overturned.”