Many are shocked that the genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon (AAS), created by inserting genetic material from Chinook salmon and ocean pout into wild Atlantic salmon, was approved by the FDA this week. The genetically engineered [GE] salmon, created by Boston-based AquaBounty Technologies, is designed to grow twice as fast as wild Atlantic salmon--reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. Its effects on wildlife, the environment and human health have been hotly debated.
Ninety-five to 99 percent of AAS are sterile, said AquaBounty at FDA hearings I attended 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 the 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 plans to grow out and slaughter the salmon in 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."
There are lingering questions
about the fish's allergic potential. When FDA food scientists Kathleen Jones
and Kevin Greenlees presented AquaBounty's AquAdvantage salmon allergy studies,
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 official brieﬁng packet even says the FDA can 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 "flawed"?