Union to FDA: Say NO to Genetically Modified Salmon

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During the a series of hearings this week, a committee advising the Food and Drug Administration will decide whether to give its blessing to Atlantic salmon genetically modified to grow twice as fast as non-GM salmon. The fish, engineered by a Massachusetts company called AquaBounty Technologies, contain genes from Chinook salmon and a bottom-dwelling ocean pout.

The committee reviewing the application is made up of people who are either blatantly pro-genetically modified foods, or simply lack the expertise.

Committee members had better brace themselves for a blast from Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at the Consumers Union. "FDA requires new animal drugs to be shown to be safe for animals, humans, and the environment. This has not been shown for the GE salmon. The data presented, although woefully incomplete, do raise a potential serious human health issue—that of increased allergenicity," he wrote in a prepared statement (PDF), going on to lambaste the approval process. "The FDA has set the bar very low," he said, citing flaws such as "sloppy science," "small sample sizes (only six fish)," "questionable practices," and "woefully inadequate analysis."

Unfortunately, the Consumers Union's admonitions are likely to fall on deaf ears. It is clear that the committee reviewing the application is made up of people who are either blatantly pro-genetically modified foods, or simply lack the expertise to make informed decisions. The committee has no scientists whose expertise is in the areas of fish ecology, food allergies, and endocrinology (all relevant topics), but there are two members who have developed genetically engineered animals, including one Monsanto alum and several veterinarians.

And that's not the worst of it. According to The Washington Post, if (or, more likely, when) the FDA gives the GM salmon its blessing, it will not require that the fish be labeled as such when sold to consumers because the altered fish is not "materially" different from other salmon.

If that happens, giving up farmed salmon altogether will be the only sure way for consumers to avoid dining on GM fillets. Which, when you think about it, wouldn't be such a bad thing.

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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