Techniques discovered to genetically modify salmon; ITR: Is genetically modifying salmon appropriate?

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis, Jacob Correll, Richard Weeks

Intro by Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

     With technological advances involving computers, phones, televisions, music players and an abundance of other things that affect human life, technological advances when it comes to food are a long time coming. In recent months, a company called AquaBounty Technologies has gone to the Food and Drug Administration in order to approve their new product. They have recently developed techniques to genetically modify the DNA of salmon in order to make it grow to full maturity in nearly half the time it takes regularly. They have developed a transgenic salmon, derived from an Atlantic salmon base with genes from the Chinook salmon and the pout, which is a cod species.  The gene extracted from the Chinook salmon promotes quicker growth while the pout gene allows growth in both the summer and winter months. This extended period of growth means the fish will be of marketable size in eighteen months as opposed to the three years of the natural variety. This will dramatically expand the amount of fish available for sale.

     The prospect is promising, due to the potential for a solution to world hunger as well as the assurance by AquaBounty Technologies that the salmon will not harm the ecosystem in any way. However, there have been numerous objections to the proposal for FDA approval. The fact that the FDA has only used the information that AquaBounty has provided rather than procuring their own data has provoked complaints, especially considering previous faulty products approved by the FDA that were later recalled. The question is: are the potential risks of genetically modified salmon greater than their benefits? Our writers debate the issue…In The Ring!

In the corner on the right…Jacob Carrell

     The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has met to discuss the approval and implementation of what would be the first genetically manipulated animal to enter the American food supply. Scientists have removed unwanted genes from a species of farmed salmon; tweaking and prodding the genome on the quest for a product that consumers can purchase at a fraction of their normal price. These ‘Frankenfish,’ as coined by critics, would take only eighteen months to fully grow, compared to the three years that non-modified salmon take.

     Despite growing approval for such a fish, there are those who will object and move for the dismissal of such a scientific advancement. There have been concerns of potential allergy issues related with the consumption of these fish, as well as apprehension as to whether or not modified fish could escape and disturb normal salmon populations. The people who are challenging this innovation either do not have all of the facts, or are just plain ignorant.

     AquaBounty, the company who is the subject of this whole debacle, assures that their fish product is safe and environmentally sustainable; FDA officials have also poured over scientific data and have reached a similar consensus. The FDA concluded that they have every reason to proceed accordingly, making way for these altered fish to be on our market shelves in two years time. Keep in mind, the FDA is not composed of intellectually void four-year olds gathered around some shanty playground; it is a federal agency which reviews the information at hand and acts based on evidence and reason.

     The ultimately conclusion gleaned from the research showed that there is no evidence that adding a naturally occurring fish gene in an extra dose will create anything but bigger portions of salmon to eat. There is no nutritional difference between a natural salmon and the genetically modified fish. It should also be noted that the allergy scare is nothing but activist nonsense that has frightened people in to submission to vote against this matter. Independent biotechnology consultants not affiliated with AquaBounty maintain that the salmon is safe for most people and that the fish are no more likely to cause allergies than others.  Nothing has been added to the fish that would increase the allergenicity profile. There are no novel proteins which are unfamiliar just naturally occurring genes.

     Critics fear that, if let out, these genetically engineered salmon could escape from their breeding grounds and lead to the mixture of species and harm the already endangered salmon. There have been numerous precautions to insure that the threat of escaping fish is minimal. First of all, the fish would be bred female and sterile, with only a small percentage that could possibly breed. The fish farms would be kept away from any fresh source of non-manipulated salmon, and would be contained in isolated tanks and pools which would be set up on land.

     Past mistakes have led some to believe that anything biologically enhanced food products are unstable and potentially harmful as a general rule but this is not the case. Starting in the 1950s, a man named Norman Borlaug let the introduction of semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat mutations into India, Pakistan and Mexico. Within fifteen years Mexico became a net exporter of wheat while India and Pakistan experienced a wheat yield which was double their original production. Borlaug and his strain of wheat have often been credited with saving over one billion people worldwide from starvation. Sufficed to say, biologically mutated and genetically modified forms have the potential for extensive benefits and we should not be so hasty to bash this science as being dangerous or potentially harmful.

     One thing that I do not agree on is the FDA’s intent to not label the genetically altered fish any differently than that of natural salmon. They say that considering the fact that the fish is ultimately safe means that there is no reason to label it. I think that people should retain the right to know what they are eating for whatever personal/religious/social reservations they may have.

      Labeling these fish might scare away consumers from buying them a first, but hopefully with time the majority of the population can come to terms with the fact that, although different, these fish pose no threat to us or our health. The approval could make way for a variety of genetically engineered animals and deliver possible solutions to many hunger issues throughout our world. This could be a first step to something big.

In the corner on the left…Richard Weeks

     The FDA looks set to approve the sale of genetically modified fish for consumption in America. However, in Europe this technology has been blocked despite the problems with depleted fish stocks there. Genetically modified (GM) fish have not gained ground across the Atlantic for several good reasons. This trend should continue here in the US as they pose several significant problems, even if they are not seen as significantly different to natural fish.

     The fish will be farmed as part of the growing aquaculture industry. There are many problems with aquaculture regardless of GM fish farming although new issues are added because of it. Aquaculture taxes global ecosystems because it requires the same weight of fish needed to feed the farmed salmon; other farmed species sometimes require even more. This results in other species being over fished to maintain the farms. Species such as sardines and herring, which are used to feed the salmon, are being caught in ever greater numbers; that in itself is not a sustainable practice. Sardines and other fish that salmon feed on are needed by populations around the world for food. If they are taken away as a food source global food shortages could result.

     On a similar note, many people are worried about the fish escaping. While the company has said that the fish will be farmed inland and in areas not conducive to their survival, there is still a chance that they could get into the ecosystem. A case in point is the introduction of mink into the UK. Originally farmed for their fur, animal rights activists released many into the wild. This resulted in the damaging of many ecosystems and native species being pushed out. A similar scenario with the GM salmon has the potential to cause havoc.

     A large problem is that so much is unknown about GM fish. So far only the company and a few independent researchers know much about this species. On top of that, the FDA has not conducted its own research but is instead reviewing the research from AquaBounty. Obviously, AquaBounty is trying to sell their product so any studies they do must be taken with a grain of salt. Already, people have argued that the study used a statistically insignificant number of fish. This is important because if the fish were selected for the test based on certain characteristics it could greatly influence the statistical data. Even if the fish weren’t specifically chosen to falsely represent the whole a small sampling will have similar results. If we allow a new species of fish to be created and don’t analyze all of the possible problems then not only are we causing potential problems in that area but will be setting a bad precedent for all future GM animals.

     The FDA is not always the most reliable source as various experiments have been approved by the agency have later been found to be harmful. An example of this would be DDT. It was found to be an effective pesticide in the 1940s when there was a shortage of other pesticides. It was used extensively for around twenty years until it was found to have a massive effect on the environment. As the chemical was absorbed by a various levels of the food chain it ended up affecting human as DDT has been linked to cancer and developmental problems among children. This harmful substance that was passed into use without fully knowing the effects of its use and this mistake could be repeated with GM salmon.

     If the fish are approved, as it appears they will be, they should most certainly be labelled as genetically modified. This is because those oppose the fish or aquaculture in general should be allowed to abstain from purchasing the product if they want to. Not only that but if the salmon turn out to be more allergenic than wild fish then people will need to know which fish they can or can’t eat.

     While the creation of a breed of genetically modified salmon is a massive leap forward for technology, it may not necessarily be right to introduce that into the food chain. Yes it may help with world hunger and stop the depletion of certain fish stocks but it will also deplete other stocks of fish and harm the environment more than it will benefit humans. Technology must progress but advancement shouldn’t come at the expense of the natural world.