Frankensalmon” faces massive opposition

FDA rubber stamp on GM salmon sparks backlash from consumer groups, political leaders, salmon fishing organizations, scientists, chefs, and others.

A coalition of 31 consumer, animal welfare and environmental groups, along with commercial and recreational fisheries associations, scientists, political leaders, restaurant chefs, and food retailers have spoken out in opposition to the proposed approval of a genetically modified salmon by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The “AquAdvantage” salmon, developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, was genetically altered with growth hormone genes from a Pacific salmon and with DNA from the antifreeze genes of an eelpout. This modification spurs production of a growth hormone, creating a fish that grows to full size at twice the rate of conventional farmed salmon.

If approved by FDA, the GM salmon could enter the food supply by 2012.

Misguided and dangerous”

In early September, FDA declared that the salmon was safe to eat. The announcement was met with a fierce backlash with opponents saying the agency based its decision on incomplete data supplied by AquaBounty Technologies while raising health and environmental concerns.

“FDA’s decision to go ahead with this approval process is misguided and dangerous, and is made worse by its complete lack of data to review” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

US Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said, “Let’s call this genetically engineered fish for what it is: Frankenfish. Approval of genetically modified salmon is unprecedented, risky and a threat to the survival of wild species.”

Nell Halse, president of the International Salmon Farmers Association, said “The aquaculture industry and salmon farming industry worldwide has a very clear policy that we do not support the commercial production of genetically modified salmon.”

A poll of restaurant chefs by Nation’s Restaurant News blog Food Writer’s Diary found that 81% opposed GM salmon. “I’m not interested in seeing ‘genetically altered’ anything in my restaurant,” said Antonio Bettencourt, chef-owner of 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar in Salem, MA.

Overwhelming majorities of consumers say they won’t eat GM salmon, according to polls by the Washington Post (79%) and the Canadian Broadcasting Company (64%).

Scant safety data”

GM salmon is being rejected because of several major issues: scant data demonstrating its safety, lack of transparency by FDA in its approval process, lack of independent review of safety data, and human health and environmental risks.

FDA released data about its approval of GM salmon but Kimbrell called it “too little, too late.” The study on changes in the morphology of the GM salmon involved only 12 fish. The limited study on possible allergic reactions involved only 6 fertile GM fish and 6 infertile fish. These small sample sizes are inadequate for a full review of the health and safety of these fish.

FDA required no data from long-term clinical feeding trials. “Without the required testing and safety data we have no way to prove the transgenic salmon is safe to eat,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

According to the Guardian, FDA data indicated that the GM salmon had elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a suspected carcinogen.

FDA also dismissed the fact that there was a high physical deformity rate among the GM salmon.

One of the biggest concerns about the GM salmon is that it will escape from its pens and harm wild salmon. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GM salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 generations.

Secrecy, no independent review

One of the most serious issues is that FDA has no process to assess GM animals intended for human consumption. FDA is evaluating the GM fish through its process for reviewing a new animal drug. “By choosing to use the animal drug process for reviewing this GM fish, basic health and safety data was kept a secret until just before the hearing on its approval,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It is outrageous to keep this vital information secret.”

Anne Kapuscinski, Professor of Sustainability Science at Dartmouth College, said “I would like to see a much more transparent system… It would be much better if the data were all publicly available and available for independent scientists to evaluate it.”

Will GM salmon be labeled?

Then there is the issue of labeling the GM salmon. Current FDA policy states that genetically modified foods are “substantially equivalent” to normal foods. The agency may allow AquaBounty to have it both ways, regulating it as unique but saying it is substantially equivalent to normal salmon.

Alaska passed a law in 2005 requiring labels on GM fish products. Several states, including California, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, and Michigan, have laws that ban the release of GM fish.

The FDA held a meeting on September 19-20 of the agency’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Board to address science-based issues associated with the GM salmon.

On September 21, FDA held a public hearing to present the relevant legal principles for food labeling. The hearing also offered the public an opportunity to comment on the application of the relevant food labeling principles to foods that might be made from GM salmon.

FDA will accept public comments until November 22. To submit public comments, go to

(Sources: New Brunswick Business Journal, Food and Drink Digital, USA, Washington Post, Guardian, National Public Radio, Alternet)

(The Organic & Non-GMO Report, October 2010)