By Eve Mitchell
You’d be forgiven for missing the news, but the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved AquaBounty’s genetically modified (GM) salmon for human consumption few days ago.
We’re fighting to get that decision revoked. You can help. In case natural revulsion isn’t enough of a prompt, a few reminders:
It’s a serious environmental hazard
As a migratory species, salmon can and do move independently over long distances regardless of international borders, and farmed fish escapees already threaten natural salmon populations in a variety of ways. For instance, Pacific salmon are caught in the UK’s River Tweed, proving the fish move into non-native waters. Populations of Pacific salmon introduced into Russia and Newfoundland have colonised waterways in Norway and Nova Scotia and Quebec respectively.
The GM salmon may not all be “sterile”, as AquaBounty claims. AquaBounty’s own submissions to the US Government indicate that 5% of the fish may be capable of reproducing. What’s worse, it was revealed as late as 2013 that the GM fish can also pass their modified DNA on to brown trout.
These two issues raise considerable concern that escaped GM salmon may interbreed with natural animals and produce a population of uncontrolled feral GM fish that may well outcompete natural fish for mates, food, nest sites and so on. This poses a serious threat to already vulnerable populations, and the impacts of such a fish on other species in the wider habitat are not known.
AquaBounty claims that its land-based production facilities alleviate the environmental risks and are in fact sustainable. However, AquaBounty’s record of failure to comply with regulations means the company cannot be relied upon to contain and control its product. Even before the GM fish gained FDA authorisation, AquaBounty suffered a disease outbreak, an accident that led to “lost” salmon, and a USD$9,500 fine when Panamanian regulators found AquaBounty in breach of environmental laws. They must mean something different by “sustainable”.
It’s a potential threat to human health
Data provided to U.S. regulators showed that GM salmon could be fundamentally different from natural salmon in levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and insulin-like growth factor 1 (also known as IGF-1), which research shows increases the risk of breast, colon, prostate and other cancers when present in the human body at elevated levels. Since we do not understand why GM fish is different in these ways, we cannot know what else is different or if any of it is safe. I’m not rushing to be first to dish it up, and the vocal calls for a ban in the U.S. suggest I’m not alone, which leads us to…
It’s an economic mess in the making
GM salmon threatens economies like Scotland’s – well beyond U.S. shores and deeply sceptical about genetic modification already – with considerable economic interest in salmon in relation to food, employment, tourism and exports.
The circulation of GM salmon unlabelled in the U.S. food system poses a direct threat to the demand for all salmon. Since we can have no assurance it will be kept out of U.S. exports, it may well depress prices globally as any association between salmon and genetic modification will have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the product as a whole – a concern shared by salmon producers. Ironically, the largest market for Scottish salmon is the U.S., with sales now worth some £213 million (€303 million) per year out of overall Scottish salmon exports worth £494 million (€702 million) per year and a total worldwide retail value of over £1 billion (€1.42 billion). Food & Water Europe is critical of fish farming to be sure, but this is not small change, particularly as a good deal of the industry provides badly needed rural employment and income.
The risk is wider than fish farming, too. If GM salmon do move into Scottish waters, it will have a devastating effect on both lucrative angling tourism and the employment provided by ancillary businesses as GM taints the clean, green image of our countryside.
That’s just in Scotland.
You couldn’t make this stuff up, and all over a fish no one wants to eat anyhow.
Help us stop it before it’s too late. Ask President Obama to revoke the FDA approval of GM salmon today. Thank you.