AquaBounty Technologies has produced a super-salmon by injecting normal fish with a non-naturally occurring growth hormone that makes it grow to market size in half the time it takes for a regular salmon.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is considering whether or not to approve the fish for sale to American consumers. And if approved, the agency may also decide to put it right next to regular salmon — without any special labeling. If the approval goes through, the fish will become the first genetically-engineered (GE) animal approved for human consumption.
One of the main problems here is the fact that the FDA has not carried out its own testing on the GE salmon, and is relying solely on information provided by the Boston-area AquaBounty Technologies.
Also, because there hasn’t been enough research on GE salmon, introducing it poses risks to human health, the environment and native fish populations.
A Purdue University study demonstrated how the release or escape of GE fish into open waters might lead to the extinction of wild fish populations. Due to their unnaturally large size, certain GE fish have a mating advantage over wild species. Additionally, the researchers found that some GE fish did not produce as many viable offspring as their natural counterparts. Taken together, these two factors would start a decline in the population. Using computer modeling, the Purdue study showed that just 60 GE fish in a population of 60,000 wild fish can result total species extinction within 40 generations.
The livelihoods of people who depend on native salmon fisheries would also be adversely affected by the introduction of GE salmon.
“The wild salmon fishery is such an important part of the Sitka Conservation Society, a non-profit environment group working to protect the natural environment of the Tongass Forest and surrounding waters of Southeast Alaska, in Capital City Weekly. “A cheap, fast-growing farmed salmon would adversely affect the market by flooding it. Many Alaskans families depend on salmon for their livelihood, and this would really impact them.”
”The least you can do if you put these products on the market is to let consumers decide for themselves, and you need labeling to do that,” said Patricia Lovera of Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, in the New York Times. ”Every trend in the food industry shows consumers want more information, not less.”
“This is one of the most important campaigns that we’ve ever worked on,” said Food and Water Watch outreach director Sarah Alexander in an email, “because once frankenfish are introduced into our food system, they cannot be taken back.”
“The jury is still out on the long-term effects of genetically engineered salmon on humans — there simply aren’t enough data,” according to the Consumers Union of the United States. “But these genetic changes could lead to increased allergy risk, and lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon — the ‘good’ fat which has important health benefits.”
But perhaps the debate should ultimately shift from whether or not to eat GE salmon to whether or not to eat fish in general, on purely ethical grounds. After all, a recent study involving Atlantic salmon at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science has found that fish likely feel pain.
According to ScienceDaily, “the current findings, seen in the context of existing literature strongly indicates that fish are not only capable of nociception [the neural processes of encoding and processing noxious stimuli] but also of conscious perception of pain.”
Adding a growth hormone to salmon can also be a pain for the fish.
According to Greenpeace, “Studies have shown that the excessive growth rates make growth deformities common, including in the head which can impede the fish’s ability to eat.”
And without the requirement of appropriate labeling on GE salmon, the FDA would be impeding the public’s ability to eat — wisely.