by Marion Nestle
Sep 2 2010

Fish fight: FDA to hear comments on GM salmon

The FDA has scheduled meetings September 19-21 to hear advice about whether the agency should approve GM (genetically modified) salmon.

These, you may recall are Atlantic salmon bioengineered by AquaBounty Technologies.   Atlantic salmon only grow for a few months per year; they do not produce growth hormone in non-growth months.  AquaBounty scientists combined growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout fish.

The result is that the GM salmon produce growth hormone throughout the year and grow at twice the rate of non-GM salmon.

In preparation for these hearings, a coalition of 31 advocacy groups issued a statement urging the FDA not to approve the fish.

Each year millions of farmed salmon escape from open-water net pens, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems…We believe any approval of GE salmon would represent a serious threat to the survival of native salmon populations, many of which have already suffered severe declines related to salmon farms and other man-made impacts….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…FDA has been sitting on this application for 10 years and yet it has chosen not to disclose any data about its decision until just a few days before the public meeting.

According to press accounts, salmon are only the first in a long line of potential GM fish and animals.  AquaBounty also raises GM trout and tilapia.  Other companies are working on GM pigs and cows.

AquaBounty lost no time in responding to the Coalition’s objections:

This press release is inaccurate, deliberately misleading, and intended to create fear and misunderstanding. AquAdvantage salmon are, quite literally, the most studied fish in the world. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has spent the last fifteen years creating a robust regulatory process to ensure these fish and other transgenic animal applications are appropriately evaluated and regulated.

Comment: In the early 1990s, I was one of four consumer representatives on the FDA’s 30-member Food Advisory Committee.  This was the time when the FDA was considering approval of the first GM crops.   All four of us voted to delay the decision until more information became available or to make sure that GM foods were labeled as such.  Obviously, the FDA did not listen to our excellent advice.

Indeed, when our term on the committee was up, the head of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition explained to us that our committee had not really been advisory.  The FDA had already decided the issues that it brought to the committee for discussion.  All the agency wanted from the committee was some indication of the kind of public reaction its decisions might raise.

Is this still the case with FDA advisory hearings?  I really don’t know, but I hope the FDA will listen carefully to concerns about these fish.

  • Renee

    I have to admit that genetically modified animals freak me out. I don’t like the idea of GM plants either, but animals are pretty darn mobile, and I don’t think it’s a safe experiment to run on the only planet we can live on.

    And there’s just the “yuck” factor too. Yuck!

  • Are we safe with Sockeye Salmon or can they GM those too?

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  • Is there anything that individuals can do to voice their opinion to the FDA on the matter? This is just wrong on so many levels.

  • Bobby

    ten years ago when the news that aquabounty has invented a new fish, I emailed the company suggesting that their product was deliberately disrupting the balance of nature and that I’d never buy another salmon product if their fish came on the market.

    They responded with a email suggesting that some one had hacked my email and that no right-thinking person would or could ever object to the scientific advances that the aquabountry company was providing to mankind. Cute, but snarky. Which would certainly go a long way to explain their arrogance in inventing a new animal and then expect us to buy it and eat it.

  • I’m have the same question as Karen, what can individuals do to have our voices heard?


  • LindsayB

    They might have looked at the fish, but you can be guaranteed that they have not adequately studied their impact on the natural environment, and in particular on the wild salmon. No doubt some smart accountant will have decided that if wild salmon die out, their own patented variety will be worth more (or some equally twisted short sighted justification).

  • Daniel K

    Don’t do it!
    The…”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…”

  • The Alliance for Natural Health makes it easy to voice your opposition to Frankenfish:

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  • Some good news about GMO’s is an effort has just been announced in California that seeks to gather enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot which would require the labeling of GMOs in foods.