The debate over genetically-engineered salmon sizzles, FDA to decide on Monday

The internet was on fire these past two days after the FDA deemed AquaBounty’s genetically-engineered salmon safe for human consumption this past Tuesday. Bloggers and opinion columnist on both sides of the issue gave their best shots at influencing their readers and arguments raged in the comments. A call-in campaign started by The Center for Food Safety resulted in a flooding of the White House’s phone comment lines as people voiced their concerns over this genetically-engineered organism making it their plates. The FDA will hold a public hearing on this issue in Maryland on September 19 and 20th, after which it will decide the fate of this laboratory-born fish.

Ben & Jerry’s co-sponsored a rally and press conference today in front of the White House to ask President Obama to stop the pending approval of this first genetically-engineered animal for human consumption. Other groups present to raise concerns included Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, The Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now and CREDO Action. The Center for Food Safety presented the FDA and President Obama with signed joint letters from over 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, along with salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants. Over 160,000 consumers comments were also submitted along with a letter from 14 members of the California state legislature requesting the denial of approval until a “full suite of environmental and food safety concerns are addressed.”

There are many questions to ponder with the issue of a genetically-engineered animal. We already have seen how much cross-contamination can occur with plants that do not have the means to move on their own. AquaBounty claims that only 1% of their GE salmon retain the ability to reproduce. Researchers estimate that 3 million salmon escape from farms around the globe annually. AquaBounty states that their salmon eggs will only be sold to inland fish farms, but who is going to enforce that these eggs do not fall into the hands of a fish farmer in Chile?

These salmon grow three times faster than wild salmon and are more aggressive due to an inserted gene that increases levels of growth hormones. They would have a clear advantage over wild salmon and it would not be long before the new genes would contaminate the entire wild salmon population.

The FDA approved GE salmon based on an AquaBounty-funded study which used samples as low as six fish and determined they did not cause an allergic reaction humans. This article gives a penetrating critique on the science used in AquaBounty’s testing methods.

Yes, there is a problem with world hunger and the biotechnology companies claim to be our saviors. But in our rush for a quick fix, might we be creating even bigger problems in the future? There is a cache of many more GE animals waiting to jump from the lab onto your plate and if this GE salmon gets approved, the flood gates are open. It is certainly a time that we must all begin to pay more attention and to decide… what do we accept?

UPDATE: Other sources are reporting the date of the public hearing to be September 21, 2010 from 9:00am to 4:30pm at the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, MD. On-site registration will be available for those wishing to attend, more info here.

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