ATAMANENKO: Genetically Engineered Salmon, not worth the risk to health or the environment
Aquabounty Technologies (AT), headquartered in the US, has genetically modified (GM) a faster growing Atlantic salmon by inserting a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from the eel-like ocean pout. The company’s business plan is to produce genetically modified salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island (PEI), ship the eggs for grow out and processing in Panama and then sell a ‘table ready’ product into the US consumer market.
Aquabounty says that the fish will be sterile but can only guarantee that 95% of the salmon with be unable to reproduce. Even worse, the company’s own data reveals this fish has less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than regular farmed salmon and doesn’t taste as good.
Due to a technicality the US House of Representatives recently voted to block the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of genetically modified salmon. The Conservative government, with its usual air of secrecy, is still refusing to disclose whether the company has asked for approvals in Canada.
The FDA is regulating GE animals as “new animal drugs”, however, the approval process lacks transparency. The FDA’s preliminary conclusion was that the GM salmon is safe to eat and poses no environmental risk however, the US Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has contradicted this assessment and acknowledged that GM salmon could pose a significant risk to wild fish stocks.
According to Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union US, AT used insensitive tests to try and measure the GM salmon’s levels of growth hormone and the levels of IGF-1, a hormone linked to a number of cancers. “The FDA is relying on woefully inadequate data. There is sloppy science, small sample sizes, and questionable practices.”
According to a report by the National Academy of Science, the inability to identify all potential problems early on and the difficulty of trying to solve problems after they arise are the greatest science–based concerns when it comes to the environmental issues surrounding GM animals. In the face of such uncertainty how can posing such a threat to thousands of years of Mother Nature’s work be in any way justified?
Wild salmon is carnivorous and the fast-growing GM salmon could consume up to five times more food than other farmed salmon. Any risk of them escaping into the wild is completely unacceptable. Mature farmed Atlantic salmon have already escaped their nets and been recorded in streams in BC. Human negligence and error is always the gorilla in the room when it comes to containing GM technologies.
NDP Fin Donnelly, MP will be reintroducing his motion which asks the government to explain its regulations and to set up a system to notify Canadians about any requests for approvals and approval decisions. The motion also asks the government to “prevent the introduction of genetically modified salmon destined for human consumption into the Canadian food system until further scientific studies are concluded by the relevant departments to determine the impact of genetically modified salmon on human health and on the health of marine species, ecosystems and habitats.”
The aquaculture industry does not support the commercialization of GM fish because there is no market demand. In 2010 over 60 fisheries and oceans conservation, environmental and social justice groups signed a joint statement opposing GM fish.
Canadians have not been asked for their views on GM animals and it is clear that our regulations are not keeping up with the pace of GM technologies. I hope you will join me in calling for a moratorium on genetically engineered higher life-forms pending the outcome of a nation-wide consultation about the ethical implications of embarking down this inherently risky road.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.