The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s has given approval for genetically engineered salmon to be farmed for human consumption, marking the first-ever such approval in the world for an animal whose DNA has been scientifically modified. The FDA also declared that as the salmon is supposedly as nutritious as normally grown Atlantic salmon, it will not require special labeling.
According to the group Friends of the Earth, at least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish, along with chickens, pigs and cows, are under development, and the FDA’s decision on this genetically engineered salmon application sets a precedent for other genetically engineered fish and animals.
The Guardian reports that environmental groups in Canada are taking their government to court in an attempt to halt the production of genetically modified salmon eggs, claiming that the process risks a “huge live experiment” with the genetic makeup of all wild Atlantic salmon.
The US firm AquaBounty Technologies has been granted permission to produce fertile salmon eggs in Canada and ship them to Panama, where they will be grown in the hope that the fish will be given approval for human consumption in the US and Canada.
Environmentalists argue that there is a real risk of mixing between the GM salmon and wild fish and that the Canadian government was wrong to approve the production of the eggs in Prince Edward Island.
In June Food & Water Watch reported on a never-before-seen draft environmental review of AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered salmon which revealed that Canadian government scientists disagreed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on key questions related to the safety and performance of what may be the first GE animal approved for human consumption.
The partially redacted, 400-page draft risk assessment from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans makes startling findings about the welfare and performance of GE salmon, including that GE salmon:
- are more susceptible to Aeromonas salmonicida, a type of disease-causing bacteria, than non-GE domesticated salmon, which indicates unique animal health problems and raises environmental and public health concerns that the FDA has never considered.
- are exhibiting dramatically diminished growth rates in AquaBounty’s commercial facilities, casting more doubt on the widely disputed claims about the accelerated growth rates of GE salmon.
- are displaying widely varied performance, including inconsistent growth rates, suggesting that the growth-hormone gene construct inserted in the fish is not operating in a predictable manner, raising questions about the durability, safety and commercial viability of GE salmon.
The contradictions found in the Canadian risk assessment follow a series of embarrassing missteps in the FDA’s ongoing regulatory review of GE salmon, including the FDA’s failure to document two major biosecurity lapses at AquaBounty, including a storm-related mechanical failure that involved “lost” salmon. Additionally, in 2014, it was discovered that AquaBounty’s production facility in Panama has been operating without legally required permits related to environmental safety.
According to Fredrik Sundström, an ecologist at Sweden’s Uppsala University, “it’s very difficult to predict any ecological consequences before these fish are actually in nature, when it’s kind of too late to do anything about it.”