Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi, salmon fillet, or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for human consumption or environmental safety?
If not, then we need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, justice, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel) genes forced into its DNA.
A recent poll showed 65 percent of Americans don’t want to eat GE fish. But manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label. You won’t know you’re eating it.
This isn’t right.
More than 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval. The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.
Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.
Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.
Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish. Overall, GE salmon have 40 percent higher levels of IGF-1.”
“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.
The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat. Further research is needed.
But don’t think that committing to only buy wild salmon will prevent you from eating this fish.
GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment. But the FDA allows for 95 percent sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs. Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.
Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.
Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon? Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food? AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.
The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances. Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.
1. Simply putting GE salmon with eel genes on the market unlabeled is unfair to people whose religion prohibits eating it. Many Jews don’t want to eat anything that is not kosher, and having eel genes in their salmon or lox would cause them to unknowingly break God’s laws as they understand them.
Some Muslims may similarly find that eating salmon with eel genes is against their religion. Salmon is sacred and culturally significant to some Native American tribes; they don’t want to eat GE salmon, and need to know if it has been genetically engineered.
2. GE salmon could put fishermen of native salmon out of business. If native salmon dies out, the salmon fishing industry could be decimated. AquaBounty could potentially sue fishermen for catching and profiting from its patented GE variety.
3. According to Food and Water Watch, manufacturer AquaBounty has received more than $2 million in research grants for this fish in the past 10 years from U.S. Depts. of Commerce and Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation. The FDA has pushed forward with an inadequate review process. Are these two related?
My friends, it is up to us. Our health, the environment and justice issues are on the line. Even if we were to avoid eating this fish, it might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.
We can make a difference on this issue! And what we do now will have a reverberating impact on our food supply. There are nearly 3 dozen GE fish being developed, as well as chicken. We need to insist that the FDA not set a precedent now with its poor, scientifically flawed standards.
Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26. Please tell them to reject approval of GE salmon, at: 1-888-463-6332, Ext. 3, then Ext. 6 (Center for Veterinary Medicine) or http://tiny.cc/in82qw . To go beyond this and work to help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, go to: www.gefreeseafood.org  or email the author at: [email protected] .
Lisa Goldwag Kassner is an active member of the Los Angeles Jewish community, and a San Fernando Valley area volunteer coordinator for the California Label GMOs campaign. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Pomona College. She may be reached at: [email protected] .