FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Return of FrankenSalmon

The genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon, (AAS), often referred to as a “Frankenfish”, is moving through the FDA approval process despite doubts raised at 2010 hearings, in scientific reports and by 400,000 consumers.

The genetically modified salmon, created by Boston-based AquaBounty Technologies, is created to grow twice as fast as wild Atlantic salmon–reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. It was created by inserting the coding sequence from a Chinook salmon growth hormone gene under the control of an “antifreeze protein promoter and terminator” from ocean pout into wild Atlantic salmon. No wonder it’s called a Frankenfish.

Ninety-five to 99 percent of AAS are sterile, said AquaBounty at FDA hearings in 2010, so they are unlikely to breed and threaten wild salmon stocks if they escape. (If they did breed, though, it could Jurassic Park-like since AAS eat five times more food than wild salmon and have less fear of predators, according to background materials.) Nor is 1 to 5 percent a small amount considering the 15 million eggs AquaBounty plans to grow: that could amount to 750,000 fertile fish.

To prevent such risks, AquaBounty told an FDA advisory committee it plans to grow the eggs at a facility on Prince Edward Island in Canada, where escapees could not survive. “Water from the facility, including effluent from all floor drains, fish tanks and egg incubators, eventually discharges” into a tidal river that flows into the Gulf of Lawrence, says the AquAdvantage FDA briefing package. Because water temperatures in the winter months are very low and the water has a high salinity, “it is highly unlikely that early life stages of any Atlantic salmon at the facility would be able to survive if they were able to escape.”

But escape into the Gulf of Lawrence is not the only risk. AquaBounty also has safety plans for the adult salmon, which it plans to grow out and slaughter in the country of Panama because that environment  is also hostile to survival. “In the lower reaches of the watershed, the water temperature is in the range of 26 to 28 degrees C, at or near the upper incipient lethal level for Atlantic salmon,” says the FDA report. “As a result, it is extremely unlikely that AquAdvantage Salmon would ever be able to survive and migrate to the Pacific Ocean.”

In the FDA briefing report, AquAdvantage salmon were also found to have high incidences of “jaw erosion” and “focal inflammation” (infection), though the defects are said to be “of low magnitude and not likely to be debilitating to fish in a production setting.” What about the people who eat them? The report also identified low glucose
levels and a possible “increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1] in the AquAdvantage salmon compared to sponsor control fish.”

Perhaps most troubling at the FDA hearings was AquaBounty’s policy for handling dead fish in Panama. In its Environmental Assessment report, it says, “As dead fish are deposited, they will be covered with caustic lime, followed by another layer of dead fish and caustic lime, and so on, until the burial pit is ~0.5 m deep, at which point it will [be] sealed with plastic and covered with soil. Successive pits will be located at a minimum distance of 0.5–1.0 m from those used previously; the aggregate collection of such pits will be located on high ground that is not within the 100-year flood plain. . . . In the event that disposal capacity at the site is inadequate to handle the immediate or aggregate waste volume, alternative means of disposal will be sought.” Why are so many fish expected to die?

More Concerns

There are also questions about the GE fish’s allergic potential. When FDA food scientists Kathleen Jones and Kevin Greenlees presented AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon allergy studies at 2010 hearings, members on the committee considering the approval were appalled at the “science.”

How can safety be determined for levels of allergens when a number that would “unsafe” has not been determined asked members of the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. It’s as if  “you selected a particular allergen in goat meat and another allergen that was in sheep meat and you compared the two and you found a significant difference but both of them were at irrelevantly low numbers,” said Louisiana State University’s David F. Senior, who chaired the committee. “Who cares?”  Other members berated the low numbers of fish used in studies, the inclusion of irrelevant fish in studies which “diluted out the power of the study,” and the generally bad science.

And not only were the studies low powered, some having only six or seven fish in them, there were errors in studies! James D. McKean, with the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University, noted there were six “controls” in Table 15 and “in Table 16, there are 7. And I am still unclear as to where that extra sample came from?”

“Nothing reliable can be gained from this study,” said Craig Altier, DVM, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University about other data presented, calling the work a “real mess.” This “is an important thing to study and the experiment was a bust, why hasn’t it been done again?”

The briefing packet even says the FDA an not determine if the AquAdvantage salmon would cause more allergies than other fish because excessive culling of “abnormal” salmon and other “technical flaws” in AquaBounty’s study so “skewed” data as to “limit its interpretation that we cannot rely on its results”!  What? Why are so many fish expected to be flawed–and why is approval even considered?

The briefing report also identified low glucose levels in the fish and a possible “increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1] in the AquAdvantage salmon compared to sponsor control fish.”  IGF-1 is linked to cancer and early puberty and its presence in rBGH-created milk was what made the product so controversial. Government scientists have said that IGF-1 is destroyed by digestion or pasteurization, but other scientists disagree.

And there are other concerns besides the AquAdvantage salmon’s allergic potential and levels of its IGF-1. While supporters claim the fast growing fish would supply desirable omega oils,  according to Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, “in terms of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, GE salmon fare worse than wild fish and slightly worse than farmed salmon.”

Finally, there are Jurassic Park-like questions that persist with all genetically modified organisms. The FDA briefing packet discloses an unexpected and unwanted coding “rearrangement” in AquAdvantage salmon in which the original inserted genetic material has moved from “the far upstream promoter regions” to a “downstream location relative to the growth hormone coding region.”  Why.

Despite its documented aberrations, the AquAdvantage salmon will likely not even be  labeled in more evidence that the FDA puts industry before consumers.

Martha Rosenberg’s is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

More articles by:

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail