Officials Remain Split On Genetically Engineered Salmon Debate

Officials say the FDA is lacking information.

By Nicole Karlis

While U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials have yet to make a decision on whether or not to approve the first genetically engineered animal to be sold in stores, national experts are wary if there is even enough information available for the decision to be made.

“They way the FDA is looking at this fish is like it’s a veterinarian drug and not food,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the non-profit organization Food & Water Watch. “The process has been really flawed, there are many weaknesses.”

AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company that focuses on animal gene modifications, is seeking FDA certification for one of their products—AquAdvantage® Salmon. The fish, often referred to as “Frankenfish,” is a genetically engineered Atlantic Salmon that will grow almost half as fast in order to be in stores sooner. They are raised to keep their level of growth hormones active all the time, which essentially increases their growth rate, Lovera explained.

An economic strategy that some experts say is a high price to pay.

At the meeting in September, the FDA and AquaBounty Technologies presented the VMAC with information., however, Lovera says, it was all pretty vague, enough to lead the organization to send a letter to the FDA.

“We ask that the agency reject AquaBounty’s application for genetically engineered salmon. In addition, we demand that any hearings on the topic be held in a central location and that the public have adequate time to review the very real human health, animal health, and ecological risks this product would generate,” the Food & Water Watch wrote in a letter to the FDA.

“What we saw was a lot of summaries,” Lovera said. “We have pretty limited data.” She said the organization’s main concerns are of the fish escaping to the wild, allergens, and nutrition.

While the FDA is in the beginning stages of making a decision, if approved, the fish would be the first genetically engineered animal to be sold in stores for food.

The Food & Water Watch organization is not the only one that feels the available data is far too inadequate. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are also combatting the issue.

“Judging by the limited data that are available, it is clear that genetically engineered fish are not always healthy,” said Ryan Huling, the assistant campaign manager of college campuses for PETA, in an e-mail. “There is evidence that they are frequently deformed. While Aqua Bounty provided very limited, highly flawed data on the health of AquAdvantage GE salmon, the data do provide evidence that GE salmon are unhealthy animals, experiencing high rates of abnormalities and mortality, which are made worse by the induction of triploidy and aquaculture practices used for commercial production.”

According to the AquaAdavantage website, their fish experience “increased frequency of skeletal malformations, and increased prevalence of jaw erosions and multisystemic, focal inflammation.”

However, those who served on the VMAC panel during the September meetings said the fish is just fine to be served on consumers’ plates.

There’s no worry about allegies. There is no detrimental effects, no changes in the meat.” said James McKean, VMAC member, panelist, and a professor in Veterinarians Diagnostic & Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University. “And from a human standpoint it did not seem to be an irregularity.”

McKean said some recommendations were made by the VMAC to the FDA in regards to environmental issues and the “scale-up” of the fish. “We did recommend there should be some additional work on the commercial basis,” he said.

But officials remain skeptical.

“Another concern is the nutrition value. People eat it [salmon] because it’s a healthy food.. there’s not great proof in there that’s all going to be the same,” Lovera said. “It’s very misleading for people.”

Thoughts from the Iowa City Pioneer Co-op:


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