GMO Salmon Update

  • Fishing for compliance

    Genetically engineered salmon co. raises concerns

    By  Marie Szaniszlo / Boston Herald

    A genetically engineered salmon — dubbed “Frankenfish” by critics — could be facing an upstream swim despite preliminary FDA approval, with another federal agency’s official and advocates questioning whether the fast-growing farm fish might pose a threat to wild salmon.

    Maynard-based Aqua­Bounty Technologies — with a genetically modified fish that grows twice as fast as native Atlantic salmon — won a key victory in its quest to put the fish on American dinner plates late last month when a Food and Drug Administration report found the highly controlled process of raising largely sterile fish would have “no significant impact” on the environment.

    But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is raising concerns about the experimental product.

    “Although AquaBounty claims their fish are sterile, that sterilization process is not 100 percent. There is the possibility that some of these fish could escape and reproductively interact with wild native salmon,” James Geiger, an assistant regional director for fisheries in the wildlife service’s Northeast region, told the Herald. “Any potential offspring could reduce the biological and ecological fitness of the native wild salmon.”

    FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said the agency’s preliminary findings, which are open to public comment for the next two months, are based on the “extremely low likelihood that AquAdvantage salmon” — which would be subject to containment measures — “could escape into or survive in an ocean or waterway and interbreed with wild Atlantic salmon.”

    In a draft assessment released Dec. 21, the FDA found that AquaBounty’s salmon, labeled “AquAdvantage,” was “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon.”

    The company has been fighting the current — and nearly went under for lack of funding — for more than a decade trying to win regulatory approval. “We are encouraged that the environmental assessment is being released and hope the government continues the science-based regulatory process,” Aqua-Bounty CEO Ronald Stotish said in a statement.

    The company produces its eggs on Canada’s Prince Edward Island and ships them to the Panama highlands, where salmon are raised in inland tanks with several barriers to prevent escape, according to the FDA. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Geiger said “any potential escape, no matter how little,” has the potential to harm endangered wild salmon populations.

    “Should these salmon get out, if they were to mate with native salmon, they could eventually destroy an entire population of native salmon,” agreed Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

    In addition, native salmon boast more Omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits, than the genetically engineered fish.

    Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, added she thinks the FDA has not done enough independent analysis to prove the modified salmon are safe to eat. And, given that the agency historically has not required labeling of other genetically modified foods, such as corn, Lovera said, there is no guarantee it would require AquAdvantage salmon to be labeled.

    Burgess said the FDA cannot predict when it will reach a decision about whether to permit AquAdvantage salmon to enter the American food supply. Comments on the agency’s draft assessment may be made through Feb. 25 by going to www.regulations.gov.


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