Genetically modified salmon - a fast growing hype

The U.S. government may be about to approve genetically modified (GM) salmon from the company AquaBounty. If the salmon is allowed, it will become the first genetically modified animal heading for our dinner plates.

The salmon is genetically engineered to grow faster, and the company therefore argues that the fish will help to feed a hungry world.

"Here once again we have the GM industry proclaiming it is going to save the World. This time with a luxury product, salmon, of all things. In fact this salmon is a textbook example of why genetic modification is a dead end investment if you really want to feed the world", says Bell Batta Torheim, advisor to the Development Fund.

Today, the Development Fund launches a new report on GM salmon. It documents several weaknesses in the risk assessment, outlines concerns for human health, shows how the fish suffer from deformities and how it would be a serious threat to wild salmon when it inevitably escapes. The report can be downloaded here: http://www.utviklingsfondet.no

"The genetic modification is cruel and raises serious ethical concerns as the GM salmon suffers from deformities and health problems. Moreover, it is unnecessary to increase the growth rate. The most important area in fish breeding is to focus on getting healthy animals, the quality of meat and animal welfare. What’s crucial is to select for many properties at the same time since it is the sum of the gene effects that matter, not just a restricted few, which is all that GM can offer," says Torheim.

The GMO company also hypes on too much in terms of the growth rate. According to statistics from SalmoBreed, conventional salmon are more productive than the GM salmon in reality.

The company claims that the environmental risk is eliminated because the fish are sterile and will be produced in closed tanks. In 2011, however, the company got half a million dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve its sterilization project.

"AquaBounty has not managed to create a completely sterile fish. Approximately five percent are not sterile and when millions of GM-eggs are produced this means that hundreds of thousands of fertile GM-eggs will be produced. Escaped GM salmon may contribute to the genetic depletion of wild salmon," says Torheim.

The company plans to produce the fish in closed systems on land in Panama, but the production facilities will be close to water and therefore the fish do have the opportunity to escape.

The company also claims that there are no health risks to eating the fish, but independent researchers question AquaBounty’s health assessments because they are based on insufficient data and use minimal control groups, while also keeping some information confidential. The data that is published shows that GM salmon contains a 40 percent higher level of a hormone that is known to cause cancer. Also, the fish exhibited as much as 52 percent higher levels of “allergenic potency,” which indicates possible allergic reactions from consumers. Fish is usually healthy, but the GM salmon contains 5 percent less protein and 58 percent more fat.

Approval process in the USA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in USA had a positive environmental assessment of the GM salmon end of last year. It is possible for all stakeholders to send in their submissions before the deadline 25th February this year: http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=genetically%252Bengineered%252Bsalmon;fp=true;ns=true In the public, there is wide opposition to the approval of GM salmon and this petition has almost reached one million signatories: http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_frankenfish_r/?fp

The situation in Norway

No GMOs are approved for food. Opposition to GMOs is widespread. Last December, the government banned a type of genetically modified canola (oilseed rape) produced by Monsanto due to its ability to spread in the environment, and because it does not contribute anything to sustainable development internationally. The Norwegian Gene Technology Act sets the provisions for the GMOs that may be approved here. It ensures a far more thorough analysis than is the case in the U.S.

About the Development Fund

The Development Fund is an independent environmental and development organization that supports small scale farmers in developing countries and promotes sustainable food production.

Contact details:
Bell Batta Torheim, mobile: (+47) 41 04 1234, bell@utviklingsfondet.no

Emneord: gmo