AquaBounty GMO Salmon paid for by Canadian Taxpayers

April: it seems our Canadian government gave AquaBounty a decent chunk of cash to keep it’s GMO salmon project afloat – and AquaBounty is an American Corporation: the following are 2 articles with various ‘slants’ on this fishy tale…

Another (GMO) Fish Tale From Aqua Bounty

C Margulis
Corporate Crime Daily, January 27 2010
Earlier this month, genetically engineered (GMO) salmon produced by the US-company Aqua Bounty were reportedly condemned in Panama, due to fears that the super-salmon could escape and wreak havoc on natural fish populations. The company later claimed the report was inaccurate, but company documents  acknowledge that its Panamanian operation was established in 2008 with the goal of “conducting commercial trials of the Company’s AquAdvantage salmon.”

Whatever the situation in Panama, concerns about the impending approval of genetically engineered (GMO) salmon are nothing new (nor are concerns about farmed salmon in general: Greenpeace just announced that mega-retailer Target will stop selling all farmed salmon). An article last February [2009] noted that Aqua Bounty was “soon” expecting FDA approval for the GMO salmon, which grows more rapidly than its natural counterpart.

Aqua Bounty has been seeking FDA approval since 1996, and has repeatedly claimed approval was just around the corner. In 2003, company founder and then-CEO Elliot Entis told Business Week that he hoped for FDA approval within a year. In 2004, another report stated the company was looking for approval by the end of the year. Another Business Week story in 2006 noted the fish could be on the market “as early as 2008.”

In mid-2008, the company said that the first salmon for a “commercial market test” were expected to reach harvest weight by late 2009. By mid-2009, the company projected the fish would be up to harvest weight “in early 2010.” The timeline for the market test, they said, was “proceeding on plan.”

Aqua Bounty has a history of over-promising and underperforming: projected sales of its shrimp feed additive were slated to be $370 million by 2010; in fact, total sales for all of the company’s products peaked at less than $800,000 in 2005. By 2008, the shrimp feed additive was withdrawn from the market, and the company’s mid-year 2009 report notes total sales revenue at zero following withdrawal of the product.

A look at its financial reports shows a company in deep waters. Aqua Bounty lost more than $8 million in 2006, and more than $6.5 million each year in 2007 and 2008, and projected a $5 million loss for 2009. Despite the losses, the company recently received a $2.9 million grant from the Canadian government’s “Atlantic Innovation Fund” and $100,000 from the US National Science Foundation.

The company’s latest financial statement notes, “At this level of cash burn, Aqua Bounty expects its funds to take the Company at least into 2011 before revenues need to cover costs…. Once AquAdvantage® [GMO] Salmon is approved for sale, the Company’s focus will be to develop sales as quickly as practical.”

In other words, the company’s future depends on FDA approval this year.
Of course, Aqua Bounty’s future also requires that consumers continue to be kept in the dark about the super salmon, if it ever does get to market. Since people don’t want to eat GMO salmon, their product can only survive in the marketplace if it is not labeled. Consumer groups have called for labeling, and food safety, environmental and wild salmon advocates have opposed approval (and called for strict regulation if approved) of the GMO salmon, but FDA is unwilling to require labels on GMO food, despite inherent risks in the genetic engineering process.

The techniques used to produce GMO crops or animals inherently create unpredictable side effects. Gene tinkerers literally shoot inserted genes into “target” organisms, and do not know where in the organisms’ genome the inserted gene will land. Thus they cannot know what other genes may be affected, or how the inserted gene will respond in the new host. Several studies on genetic engineering intended for faster growing fish have found a bounty of side effects, including impacts on swimming ability, feeding rates, muscle structure, life span and more. One study found GMO salmon had changes in head and body shape, with enlarged abdomens and larger than normal intestines, among other unexpected changes.

One of the most troubling side-effects of gene tinkering is a potential increase in allergens or creation of new allergens. A New England Journal of Medicine article on GMO food noted that the potential for allergies created from GMO foods is “uncertain, unpredictable, and untestable.”

GMO fish are also likely to irreversibly alter natural marine environments, with unpredictable and possibly fatal impacts on natural fish species. One study demonstrated that an escape of relatively few GMO fish could wipe out local fish populations in just 40 generations. Escapes of fish from aquaculture facilities are so routine that Canada’s draft policy stated that GMO fish “must be treated the same as fish released into the natural ecosystem.”

Despite the risks of GMO fish, widespread consumer concern, and the dubious track record of the company bringing GMO salmon to market, the US government continues to fund research and development of GMO seafood through its Sea Grant programs. Research into numerous GMO species, including catfish, sea bass, tilapia, oysters and other fish and seafood is ongoing at many of the country’s thirty-two Sea Grant universities.

Who dares question the industrial food system over GM salmon?, Tuesday 7 September 2010

ENVIRONMENT 6 Salmon ‘If salmon and milk and a whole range of edible food-like substances yet to come contain elevated levels of IGF-1, when, exactly, are we supposed to start worrying?’ Photograph: David Cheskin/PAWith fish stocks around the world depleted by overfishing and disrupted by climate change, farm-raised salmon stands as a viable if not entirely appetising alternative.

Last Friday, though, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a potentially dangerous step. The agency ruled that salmon whose genes have been altered so that they grow more rapidly than their wild counterparts are safe for human consumption. In so doing, the FDA opened the door for salmon to become just another unhealthful cog in the industrial-food machine. And it may have foisted upon the public yet another cancer risk.

According to a report in the New York Times, FDA scientists found that the altered fish, developed by AquaBounty Technologies, based in the Boston area, were unlikely to escape into the environment and cross-breed with native schools of Atlantic salmon. The agency also found that even though the genetically altered salmon carry elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a suspected carcinogen, those levels are so minute that they pose no health risk.

Precautions aside, it requires considerably more than the customary level of naivety to believe wild salmon wouldn’t be contaminated by their laboratory-designed cousins. If AquaBounty’s progeny ever come to market, it would only be a matter of time before some unforeseen accident undid everyone’s best intentions.

But it is the IGF-1 about which we truly ought to be concerned, because the FDA’s finding is evidence of an unacceptably narrow focus. The substance occurs naturally in salmon and other animal products, and the agency tells us that the genetically altered fish contains only a tiny amount more. Yet, by considering such matters one at a time, the FDA may well be introducing us to many tiny risks that start adding up to a very real risk.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had to worry about IGF-1. In the 1990s, the FDA approved the use of genetically engineered recombinant bovine-growth hormone (rBGH, also known as rBST) to induce cows to produce more milk. It was, and is, a controversial practice, and I wrote about it for an iconoclastic (and defunct) environmental journal called Garbage magazine.

My reporting convinced me that rBGH posed a greater risk to cows than to humans, as the unnaturally high rate of milk production stressed the animals, sometimes resulting in an infection known as mastitis. (Which is treated with antibiotics. Which enter the food supply. Which – well, you get the picture.)

But cows given rBGH, like genetically altered salmon, also have higher levels of IGF-1, some of which makes its way into the milk. Not enough to worry about? Perhaps. But if salmon and milk and a whole range of edible food-like substances (to use Michael Pollan’s phrase) yet to come contain elevated levels of IGF-1, when, exactly, are we supposed to start worrying?

In addition to being linked to colon, prostate and breast cancer, IGF-1 is a trigger for puberty, which has led to speculation that too much could cause puberty to come about prematurely. IGF-1 also has its uses, both legitimate and dubious. When human-growth hormone is administered as a corrective to children with certain rare types of hormonally based dwarfism, it stimulates the production of IGF-1, which in turn boosts growth. A quick search of the internet also reveals that IGF-1 is touted as an anti-aging formula and as a body-building substance.

As it happens, I recently finished Jared Diamond’s celebrated book Guns, Germs and Steel, which, among other things, explains the civilising effects of domesticating – that is, genetically altering – certain plants and animals. But genetic engineering as practiced in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago contained within it certain limits that ensured some degree of safety. Even the green revolution of the 1960s was based on tried-and-true methods of selective breeding.

By contrast, modern scientific tools allow genetic engineers to try just about anything in order to see what will happen. AquaBounty’s Atlantic salmon, for instance, contain a growth-hormone gene from Chinook salmon – and another gene from an entirely different fish, the ocean pout, which has the effect of keeping that growth-hormone gene switched on. The result is an alien creature, unknown in the natural world.

Consumer and governmental wariness has so far prevented genetically modified foods from taking over our grocery shelves. Milk from cows given rBGH is banned by the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Some American companies – even Wal-Mart – have done a nice business selling milk guaranteed to be from rBGH-free cows.

Likewise, a host of consumer organisations is fighting against genetically modified salmon. Typical is this statement from Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, which is full of warnings about the environmental, toxic and even allergenic hazards posed by “mutant salmon”.

The FDA won’t make a final decision until later this fall, after a round of public hearings. So perhaps this is not yet a done deal. Maybe Michelle Obama is importuning her husband even now. Trouble is, there are few politicians willing to incur the wrath (and eschew the campaign contributions) of the American industrial food system.

In the end, the battle over genetically modified salmon is emblematic of a larger problem: an ongoing shift away from real food in favour of substances concocted in a lab.

3 responses to “AquaBounty GMO Salmon paid for by Canadian Taxpayers

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention AquaBounty GMO Salmon paid for by Canadian Taxpayers « GE Free BC --

  2. I have been researching the use of sex hormones to promote all female salmon in fish farm pens in B.C. Do you have anything on this?

    • We don’t Betty. I guess you have tried Alexandra. I can put this out to some of my colleagues. Thank you for all the work you do, by the way!

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