Center for Biological Diversity

Tell the FDA: No Frankenfish

Beaufort Sea in Spring
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Genetically engineered salmon may soon be for sale at your local grocery store, if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first-ever "GE" animal intended for human consumption. Many people are concerned about the health risks of eating genetically engineered foods. But genetic engineering of farm fish is also likely to be a disaster for wild salmon, which are already at grave risk from a host of threats such as dams, pollution, aquaculture operations and climate change.

The FDA is considering approval of "AquAdvantage" salmon, genetically engineered Atlantic salmon that grow at twice the rate of normal salmon. Farmed salmon regularly escape into the wild, and research has shown that the release of only a few dozen genetically engineered fish could lead to the extinction of an entire wild salmon population. However, the FDA has given virtually no consideration to the impacts of these "Frankenfish" on wild salmon stocks, nor does it seem likely the FDA will require consumer labeling for the fish.

The potential consequences for aquatic ecosystems, as well as human health, are far too serious to allow the FDA to get away with rubberstamping this biotechnology boondoggle. Please tell the FDA: No Frankenfish!

It is vitally important that concerned citizens demand a fair and open public review process. The American public has had virtually no time to review data the FDA has been sitting on for the last ten years, and the agency has made participation in the public process extremely difficult for ordinary citizens. Scientific findings on the AquAdvantage fish were just posted to the FDA's website the Friday before the Labor Day weekend and the only hearing on approval of the AquAdvantage salmon will be held on Sunday, September 19. Written comments are due September 16.

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Please submit comments by September 16, 2010.

Atlantic salmon photo courtesy Flickr Commons/mineobskuriteter.

The AquAdvantage fish is a super-sized genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies. It is the result of insertion of an eelpout gene inside a Pacific coast salmon gene, which is then, in turn, inserted into Atlantic salmon DNA. The engineered fish is designed to produce growth hormones year-round, creating a fish that grows at twice the normal rate.

Application for federal approval of the genetically engineered salmon was submitted in 2001, but the Bush administration delayed its approval until it was out of office. Now, the Obama administration is getting ready to allow AquAdvantage fish eggs to be sold to aquaculture operators in the United States and abroad. It appears the federal government is planning few to no restrictions on where and how aquaculture companies may utilize AquAdvantage stock, even though the aquaculture industry is already a significant threat to the health of wild salmon on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Industrially raised salmon are a major threat to wild salmon stocks. They carry parasites and diseases transferable to wild fish; fish farms pollute waters with pesticides and other contaminants. When they escape, which is often, aquaculture fish may interbreed with wild stock, passing on traits to subsequent generations that diminish their adaptability to conditions in the wild. A recent study found that the presence of aquaculture operations reduced the survival or abundance of nearby wild salmon populations by more than 50 percent, on average.

Endangered Atlantic salmon on the East Coast of the United States are especially jeopardized by the potential for AquAdvantage fish to escape into the wild because of the close genetic relationship between the wild fish and the engineered ones. While AquaBounty states that only sterile female fish will result from the eggs it sells, there is no method of producing eggs that guarantees all will be sterile.