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GM Ain’t Just For Cars

Update 09/29/2010: You’ve got to read this article by Jeffrey Smith at the Huffington Post.
GE Salmon? Are You Out of Your Minds?!

There was a lot of hullabaloo last week about whether or not the FDA would approve the sale of a genetically modified salmon, their first approval of a GM animal. The FDA claims that the fish is “materially” the same as the mushy, tasteless farmed salmon already on the market and should be approved. In a surprise move however, the agency decided to withhold approval pending more testing by the industry.

AP photo of a GE fish next to a same-age normal farmed salmon

Personally, I don’t really have a problem with other folks consuming farmed fish, even if they are genetically modified, as long as proper precautions are taken. Our food supply is already peppered with GE fruits and vegetables. Unless you eat only from your own backyard plot, you likely eat genetically engineered food every day. The Center for Food Safety estimates that between 70-75% of processed foods contain some genetically engineered ingredients. 85% of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are transgenic as is 45% of our corn.

Rather than a fear of consuming food that has had it’s genes tampered with, my fear lies more in what these fish will do to our endangered wild populations once they escape into the wild. And, make no mistake, these fish will enter the wild. These Atlantic salmon receive an anti-freeze gene from an ocean pout which causes the fish to grow at more than double the rate of normal farmed salmon. They grow faster on less food.

The company estimates that 99% of it’s GE fish are sterile, reducing the threat to wild populations if they do eventually escape. Well, let’s see; “By some estimates, between 400,000 and 1 million Atlantic salmon have escaped into the wild from the 75 or so net-pen operations in British Columbia.” The company, AquAdvantage, claims that they will protect their fish from escape into the wild, but I think we have heard that before. Even taking the lower number of 400,000 escaped fish over around a ten-year period, this could mean up to 20,000 breeding pairs of escapees. A study by Purdue University estimated that if 60 transgenic fish were to breed in a wild population of 60,000 fish, the wild population would be extinct in 40 generations. Beside the inter-breeding, these escaped fish would compete with wild fish for food and habitat. They would grow faster and be more aggressive. A study released by Lake Research Partners found the 78% of Americans do not want FDA approval without further research.

My other problem with the FDA process is that they have decided that there is no need to label these fish as genetically tampered with for the market. Proper labeling allows you to make informed choices. Currently, consumers are allowed to choose between wild-caught and farm-grown salmon due to labeling. You should be allowed to choose whether or not to consume GM products. Consumer groups have called for the genetically modified fish to be labeled as such if they are eventually marketed. AquaAdvantage salmon do contain small amounts of growth hormones that have been found to cause cancer. If the fish is not properly labeled, how do you know what to blame if you should experience side effects from eating the salmon? Our wild fish stocks are rapidly disappearing around the world. Farmed fish provide a valuable source of protein. More than 50% of global fish consumption now comes from farmed fish. Worldwide, fish farming causes many problems for wild stocks. We need to be very careful about adding a genetic component to these problems. There should be very rigorous controls on how, where and if genetically modified animals are to be part of our food supply.

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