Salmon is popular among consumers because it’s a healthy food choice that has a variety of nutritional benefits. Now, a company has created a genetically engineered (GE) salmon that they say grows faster. The fish would be the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption and could pave the way for pigs, cows and other genetically altered animals to be sold for food. The GE salmon is currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and uncomfortably close to being approved. If this sounds fishy to you, it should.
The debate over GE salmon has uncovered many questions about the FDA’s approval process and about the data that the company, AquaBounty, provided to the FDA to prove that the fish is safe to eat.
Currently, the FDA’s review treats GE salmon like a “new animal drug,” as opposed to treating it like food. This is a poorly designed approach that lacks common sense and sound science – would you want to eat an animal drug?
Instead of using a drug approval process to evaluate the first GE food for human consumption, the FDA should incorporate a proper review process for a food additive, since genetically altering the fish changes its chemical makeup. This process should require GE salmon to undergo comprehensive toxicological studies, specifically those developed to ensure that foods entering the market are safe to consume and are properly labeled. Most importantly, the criteria should demand that the burden of proof be put on AquaBounty to prove that its genetically engineered food product is safe to eat.
Three consumer groups, including Food & Water Watch, submitted a petition to the FDA asking that GE salmon be treated as a food additive, not a new animal drug. As a food additive, the fish would be tested for potential allergic reactions and other health risks, which the incomplete research on the fish already indicates.
The GE salmon was engineered by inserting a Chinook salmon growth-hormone gene and a gene sequence from an ocean pout into an Atlantic salmon. The company claims this engineering causes the GE salmon to increase its growth rate, allowing the fish to reach market size in half the normal time. But this process substantially alters the salmon’s composition – including its nutrition value. AquaBounty’s own study showed that GE salmon may contain increased levels of IGF-1, a hormone that helps accelerate the growth of the transgenic fish and is linked to breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer. These potential health risks are no different from a number of food additives the FDA has banned in the past.
A 2010 Washington Post poll found that 78% of respondents would not buy GE salmon if it wins FDA approval because of potential health and environmental risks. Still, this suspicious fish could be approved by the FDA any day and make its way to the seafood case in your grocery store without being labeled, which would make us all guinea pigs in the ongoing science experiment about how GE foods impact our health and our environment.
It shouldn’t be this way. The FDA works for us, the American people, not AquaBounty. It is their job to look out for our health and keep untested, unlabeled and potentially unsafe foods like GE salmon out of the marketplace. Which is why Food & Water Watch and several other consumer advocacy organizations are pushing for a ban on GE salmon.