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If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal to be sold in stores.
By Nicole Karlis
AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company that focuses on gene modifications that results in early development and growth in fish, is seeking FDA certification for one of their products—AquAdvantage® Salmon—a genetically engineered, or transgenic, Atlantic Salmon.
The FDA met with the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, VMAC, in Maryland between Sept. 19-20 to discuss the issue.
The advisory meeting is one step in the process towards final approval.
While a decision has yet to be made by the administration, a couple of Iowa City grocery stores say they would never purchase it, experts are skeptical, and various officials say there is nothing unhealthy about it.
Click below to read all sides of the issue:
An Overview of the Genetically-Engineered Salmon
If approved by the FDA, the genetically engineered salmon would be the first genetically modified animal to be sold in stores.
•The FDA has recently approved one animal-related product, a goat engineered item to produce a human pharmaceutical in its milk.
The Following information comes from the AquaBounty FAQ.
• AquAdvantage® Salmon do not grow bigger than the regular Atlantic Salmon, only faster
• AquAdvantage® Salmon will be raised in intense biological and physical containment to prevent them from escaping and interacting with the native fish
• AquAdvantage® Salmon don’t have an additional amount of growth hormones compared to the wild Atlantic Salmon
• Genes are extracted from the Pout and Chinook Salmon to create the AquAdvantage® Salmon
Quick Facts About Salmon
• Atlantic Salmon are native in the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
• The world is eating more Salmon: Consumption in the US increased “nine-fold” between 1987 and 1999.
• European salmon consumption increase about four times. And doubled in Japan between 1992 and 2002, according to National Marine Fisheries Services.
General facts gathered from the information presented to the VMAC in September.
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:
U.S. consumers could be soon be shopping at their local grocery stores, purchasing a fish which was created in a test tube.
AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company is seeking FDA certification for one of their products—AquAdvantage® Salmon—a genetically engineered, or transgenic, Atlantic Salmon.
Before a decision can be made on the application, the FDA is required to meet certain requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), said Shannon Cameron, a Health Communications Specialist for FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. There requirements include a finding of no significant impact, FONSI, on the environment and a preliminary decision by the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, along with other public agencies.
“There is no timeline on a decision on the application,” Cameron wrote in an e-mail. “The FDA will first look at all the comments submitted by the public, as well as the suggestions from the panel.”
The FDA met with the VMAC in Maryland to discuss its concerns, the first step in the process towards approval.
“These processes take a lot of time and effort,” said James McKean, VMAC member, panelist, and a professor in Veterinarians Diagnostic & Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University.
The VMAC advised the FDA to ensure that the gene construction is safe and to do additional work on the commercial basis, McKean said.
Aside from those recommendations, McKean said, the genetically engineered salmon does not appear to be as dangerous as some may think.
“There’s no worry about allergies and no detrimental effects and changes on the meat,” he said. “From a human standpoint there did not seem to be an irregularity.”
One local Store is Already Saying “No,”— Others Want More Information
Even though it has yet to be determined if these “un-natural” fishes will flip their way into local stores— the possibility is being discussed.
“We would not purchase it,” said Chuck Hansen, a meat cutter at the Iowa City New Pioneer Co-op, 22 S. Van Buren St. “Even if the FDA approved it, we wouldn’t.”
The New Pioneer Co-OP, 22 South Van Buren St., purchases fish based on the rankings of the Marine Stewardship Council, MFC. Hansen said most likely the genetically-engineered salmon would be placed on the “void” list.
University of Iowa dining halls, Anne Harkins, the manager of the Burge Marketplace, said they have not discussed if they would purchase the fish, but will if the FDA approves it.
“I think we’d definitely want to discuss it, I know I’d want to know a lot more before I was comfortable offering to customers,” Harkins said.
As for the iconic Iowa-based grocery store, Hy-Vee, they, too, are still unsure.
“Hy-Vee does not have a position on genetically modified salmon at this time. If and when the FDA approves the product for retail sale, we will examine all the information available and determine whether or not to carry it,” said Ruth Comer, Assistant Vice President, Media Relations.
If We Already Eat Genetically Modified Food, What’s Wrong With It Being Salmon?
Despite hesitation from local stores, those who study food ethics and are immersed in the culture have other thoughts.
During the meeting with the VMAC, one concern raised was the issue of labeling.
“Should salmon be labeled or not? We’re already eating genetically produced food. The meat we eat is industrialized meat. Cows are raised on corn, genetically engineered corn,” said UI professor Lauren Rabinovitz who also serves on the UI Food Studies Advisory Board.
The genetically engineered salmon grows more rapidly, allowing it to go to the market faster than wild fish. Essentially, putting more fish on the market faster.
“It’s one tool that food industrialists use to try to adapt producing food so that they can make things quicker, cheaper, and can get more product more quickly,” she said.
Todd Hinegardner, co-owner of Iowa Northstar Fish Hatchery in Montour, Iowa, raises various fish— not including salmon— in his aqua culture ponds and lakes. While his fish aren’t specifically sold for food, he said he wouldn’t mind seeing AquAdvantage® Salmon in stores.
Hinegardner’s only concern, he said, would be if these genetically engineered fish were being placed in natural bodies of water.
“If they are taking these fish and putting them in our lakes and rivers, I would not be in favor of it,” Hinegardner said.
The weight of what could be a historical decision for food consumers nationwide depends on the FDA. However, Rabinovitz said, consumers should be skeptical of the role that the FDA plays as a whole, when it comes to food safety— genetically engineered or not.
When referring to the recent egg recall in Iowa, she asked— “Where was the FDA and why weren’t they enforcing checks?” Rabinovitz mentioned swirling rumors that said farmers were paying FDA officials to look the other way.
“With our whole food supply, there is a lot to be worried about,” Rabinovitz said.
Brady McDonald said “it’s all about the finesse,” when it comes to being the chief cook.
By Nicole Karlis
Silver metalware is hung from the ceiling and stacked on counter tops. The shiny alloy is all that is in sight in the place Brady McDonald calls work. The sounds of clinging pots and pans echoed across the room as a machine spat out tickets that ordered the next dish McDonald would cook up.
McDonald, 23, has been working at Atlas Restaurant, 127 Iowa Ave., since June of 2006. He describes his nights as “hot and fast,” behind the kitchen doors of the Atlas Restaurant.
As his first job out of college, preparing food is something that the Iowa City native knew he always wanted to do.
“I wasn’t the greatest student,” McDonald said. “But I knew one thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life was cooking.”
McDonald went to culinary school at Kirkwood Community College right after he graduated high school. In the fall of 2008, McDonald traveled abroad to Florence, Italy, to learn the ins and outs of international cooking. His time abroad contributed to his liking of Italian food, especially pasta.
“It’s like the pasta dough is part of me,” he said.
McDonald said his days in Florence were long, but he gained irreplaceable valuable experience. After an unfortunate event with one of the head chefs at the Florence restaurant he worked at, that had a Michelin rating, McDonald was promoted to be in charge of the pastries. It was during this time he found a new love for the creation of sweet treats.
“Desserts are a lot of fun to play with,” he said.
But what it all boils down to is the walk and talk about being a chef.
“It’s all about the finesse,” he said.
McDonald says he’s in the works of opening up his own restaurant, a goal he plans to reach before turning 25.
Curtis Sittenfeld is current visiting faculty member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She’s well-known for her bestselling American novels, American Wife, Prep, and The Man of My Dreams.
Sittenfeld is an Stanford undergraduate and Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum. In an interview with Barnes & Nobles, she said that the book that most influenced her life and career as a writer is Monkeys by Susan Minot. An interesting fact is that Sittenfeld was named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year her senior year.
First, I linked to Sittenfeld’s professional website so the readers can take it upon themselves to read more on her work. I also linked to the interview, to give Barnes&Noble credit and to gain credibility from my readers. Personally, I’ve never heard of Monkeys by Susan Minot, so I don’t expect my readers to know either.
Sittenfeld is received a MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This workshop is the first to offer a creative writing degree in the country and is well-known for pumping out famous writers, novelists, and poets. Other famous authors that have gone through the school include John Irving, Paul Harding, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Here I chose this blog because it features articles on creative writing programs and students around the country.
The main character in Sittenfeld’s most recent novel, American Wife, is said to have many similarities as the Former First Lady Laura Bush. American Wife has received much praise and was selected as one of the Ten Best Books of 2008 by Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly.
I thought it was appropriate to link my readers to a discussion on Sittenfeld’s most recent novel. This allows them to see first-hand what readers like and dislike.