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The Squabble over GM Salmon

A federal Food and Drug Administration panel has wrapped up its hearings on genetically modified salmon with no immediate recommendation on whether to approve the so-called “supersalmon” for distribution to American supermarkets.

New York Times reporter Andrew Pollack reports that the panel “seemed to conclude” that GM salmon “would be safe to eat and for the environment.”  But he adds that committee members also found “gaps in the studies used to support that conclusion.”

“Committee members, who were not asked to vote on whether the fish should be approved, did not point out anything about the fish that would seem dangerous,” Pollack writes.

Either way, nobody expects any resolution to the continuing squabble over FDA approval of the first genetically modified meat product.  Few issues generate more controversy than the idea of genetically engineered food.

Scientists at AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotechnology firm, have been working for a couple of decades to develop a farmed salmon that grows much faster, and thus at lower cost, than natural fish.   

GM foods such as soy and corn and other grains have been in our food supply for many years.  But AquaBounty’s fast-growing Atlantic salmon promises to be the first main course.

Here’s a sampling of perspectives gurgling on the web:

Elliot Entis, founder and former CEO of AquaBounty:  ”We should not condemn or be fearful of technology.  We need to use it to our advantage, test the individual products as the FDA is doing, but do not prejudge the results.  In our country, we have a constitutional position that prohibits prior restrain of speech.  We need to make certain that the same principle is applied to the other great hallmark of our country – scientific thought.  Prior restraint of science, the banning of biotechnology and in particular “genetic engineering” is the goal of a number of groups who seek to eliminate the process itself without trying to determin how it can be positively used.”

Elizabeth Weise, USA Today: “The elephant in the room is that this is just the first request . . .  AquaBounty has put in place multiple protections for a fish that will be raised entirely outside of the United States, but sold here.  How, critics ask, will FDA find funds to do sufficient oversight in Canada and Panama?  And what happens when the fish is sold elsewhere?  Who will be responsible for ensuring that the same standards are maintained?

Sarah Parsons, blogger and sustainable food editor at Change.com:   If you thought genetically engineered crops were scary (and let’s face it, they are, hold onto your dinner plates . . .   Two things worry me about GE animals: The meat’s effect on human health, and how producing it may impact the environment . . . If salmon produce their own growth hormones in extreme amounts, what effect will it have on consumers?”

Tony Issacs, health food writer and blogger:  ”In Scotland and New Zealand, bio-engineered salmon efforts have been abandoned amid cries of “Frankenfish.”  Likewise, fear of consumer complaints has resulted in many salmon farming groups declaring that they will not use genetically engineered fish regardless of whether governments approve them.”

Robyn O’Brien, founder of AllergyKids Foundation: “FDA committee members did not point out anything about the fish that would seem dangerous, relying on data funded and conducted by AquaBounty Technology, despite one study suggesting a possible increase in the potential to cause allergenic reactions . . .  Nationally recognized allergists have remained relatively quiet, perhaps in light of the fact that some have invented patents for other companies that are responsible for the genetic modification of our food.”

Jill Richardson, founder of La Vida Locavore:  ”We’re about to enter a brave new world in which transgenic food animals may soon be appearing on our plates . . . The approval process . . . will set a precedent for all future GE animals; if the FDA does not set the bar high for solid science, it will mean a lack of scrutiny for other, perhaps less safe GE animals in the future.”

Wen S Chan, Ohio State University and others, from their published paper on “Consumer Acceptance for Genetically Modified Vegetable Oil and Salmon”:  ”Norwegian consumers perceived GM foods as being more risky to human health than American consumers.  Specifically, 33.5 percent of Norwegian respondents thought that GM foods are “extremely risky,” whereas the corresponding figure for American respondents is only 9.4 percent . . .  The survey results also show that in both countries, tangible benefits to the consumer would increase acceptance of GM foods.”

David Ropeik, blogger and author of “How Risky Is It Really?”:    ”The perception of genetically modified food is like the perception of any risk–a combination of the facts and how those facts feel, a mix of reason and gut reaction.   GM food has several unique characteristics that make some things feel scarier.  It’s human-made, and that alone makes it scarier than a risk that’s natural.  We’re more afraid of what we can’t detect ourselves, what we don’t understand . . .  We depend on the government to keep us safe, but we don’t completely trust the government, and that lack of trust feeds greater worry.”

© Food Safety News
  • http://gigabiting.com/ Gigabiting

    This is a really big decision. It will set a precedent for all future GE animals, and has implications that will ripple through the entire future of the U.S. food supply.
    This is not the time for a rubber stamp approval.
    There are a couple of things bugging me about this approval process.
    An Open Letter to the FDA
    http://gigabiting.com/?p=5129/

  • http://fauxbacco.blogspot.com Jonik

    Trust of the FDA is impossible.
    For just one example….The FDA, in it’s job to “regulate” tobacco, is forbidden by Congress to set foot on a tobacco farm to look into the 450 or so pesticides registered for use on tobacco. Many of those pesticides remain as residues on tobacco, and many are dioxin-delivering chlorine chemicals.
    You’d think that the FDA and Congress never heard of Times Beach, Love Canal, Rachel Carson, or Agent Orange.
    FDA, by being banned from looking into the agricultural areas (the domain of the USDA…which has approved and ignored deadly ag chemicals on tobacco for decades), cannot consider the health effects of cancer-causing levels of radiation-contaminated phosphate fertilizers…still “legal” despite certain popular health concerns about “smoking”.
    See http://fauxbacco.blogspot.com for ample references.
    Bottom line…the FDA will ignore the most harmful industrial components of any products, even smoking products, and work to indict nature and the unwitting and unprotected victims. The FDA, like generally all “regulatory” agencies, is an agent of Big Biz, protecting the businesses against outrage and rebellion from People. They are Pretend Protectors.
    If the FDA “regulates” salmon the way it’s up to “regulating” tobacco, we are in big trouble.