Sunday, December 6, 2015

Genetically Modified Salmon approved by the FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption.  It will be the first genetically altered animal to reach American tables. (Plans for genetically modified pigs are being pursued in the U.S. and Korea.)  The salmon, produced by AquaBountyTechnologies, are genetically engineered with DNA that causes them to grow to market size much faster than other salmon.  They will be raised in contained, inland facilities in Panama, from eggs produced in Canada.  The company says that the fish will be all-female and reproductively sterile. Once harvested, they will be imported for sale in this country.  It is not clear when they will show up on store shelves. 

Consumer and environmental groups have strongly opposed the approval of these salmon, arguing that its safety is not certain and that wild salmon populations could be affected if the GE fish were to escape into rivers and oceans.  Being larger, they could eat more food and thus out-compete natural salmon. 

The FDA does not require, and has refused to consider, labels for genetically engineered foods, so the GE salmon will not be labeled as such.  A decision to label the new fish will be voluntary and up to the companies selling the fish. So far, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Aldi say they have no plans to sell the GE salmon.  Walmart has not said what they will decide on this matter.  Because the Aqua-Advantage salmon will be raised in Panama, it will have to carry the country of origin label required by the US Department of Agriculture.    Their rules also require imported fish to be labeled ‘farm-raised’ or ‘wild-caught’.  If shoppers see ‘’Product of Panama’ and ‘farm-raised’ on a package of salmon, it will probably be GE.  Restaurants and cafeterias must make such information available, but are not required to do so.

The Center for Food Safety, a consumer advocacy group, plans to sue the FDA in an attempt to block the sale of the fish, or to require labeling.  Food and Water Watch is also planning a lawsuit. 

On January 19th, 2016, the California Sate Assembly will vote on legislation to require that all GE fish sold in California be labeled as ‘genetically engineered’.  The Consumer Right to Know Act was introduced by into the California Assembly by Jared  Huffman, who is now on our congressman. 

There are arguments on both sides for genetic engineering of food, based on the need for more calories and protein in a world of growing human numbers.   However, the ways that GE corn and soy have been used is open to criticism.  Weeds have become resistant to the herbicides Roundup (glyphosate) and 24-D, so that larger amounts are needed.  Toxicity to beneficial soil bacteria, the Monarch butterfly and many other animals is a result.  Much of the GE soy we produce is used for animal feed, and GE corn is also made into ethanol for our cars.

The need for labeling as these questions are further analyzed is clear to me.   Please pay attention to the January vote on GE salmon in our California assembly.  You can call our Assemblyman Marc Levine at 415 479 4920 and register your opinion on labeling of this new product.
Sadja Greenwood MD, MPH   past issues on this column.

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