A Monster on the Horizon

Trout Magazine Story: Biotech Salmon Would Endanger Wild Salmon and Ecosystems
TU is weighing possible litigation if the FDA approves the genetically modified salmon.

Arlington, Va.— A Trout magazine story on the threats posed by genetically modified salmon—often called “Frankenfish,” shows that such a plan poses grave risks to wild salmon fisheries in the U.S. and around the world.

The article, which will be published in the magazine’s upcoming winter issue, shows, based on interviews with fisheries experts, that that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives approval to the biotech salmon, there would be no way to ultimately prevent the fish from escaping and breeding with wild salmon and harming valuable fisheries.

The article, written by Susan Q. Stranahan, also notes that if the company, which is promoting the biotech salmon, wins FDA approval to commercially market the fish, trout will become the next fish to be genetically modified for commercial purposes.

Trout Unlimited (TU) is assembling a panel of scientists and fisheries experts to independently assess the impact on U.S. fisheries and may use litigation to challenge the FDA’s review process.

“Even though TU is not a litigious organization, legal action would not be out of the question to slow this process down so an informed analysis and decision can be made,” says Chris Wood, TU’s President and CEO, in the magazine story.

For the last 15 years, AquaBounty, the Massachusetts-based company that is seeking FDA approval to create and sell biotech salmon, has been working on creating a fast-growing salmon by combining the genes of a Chinook salmon and an ocean pout—an eel-like fish. In September, an FDA staff analysis concluded that the genetically-modified salmon is safe to eat and poses little harm to the environment.

However, as the Trout magazine article notes, that decision was made by an agency with little expertise in biology or fisheries management. “…It’s like asking the Department of Interior to help figure out the Troubled Asset Relief Program,” says Wood.

TU and its 140,000 members have strongly objected to AquaBounty’s request for FDA approval and have asked for a full environmental impact statement in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We must be assured that this decision to modify salmon genetics be grounded in science,” said Jack Williams, TU’s senior scientist. “The FDA was designed to regulate food and drugs, not salmon populations and fisheries around the world,” Williams said. “And this one decision could change wild salmon fisheries around the world forever.

The article points out that confinement of genetically modified salmon where they are raised is the lynchpin on which this entire plan hinges. Anne R. Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth College and a co-editor of “Methodologies for Transgenic Fish,”says in the article that AquaBounty’s plan “brings the risk of escape [from these two facilities] down to zero.”

But, she says that there is a critical question that has yet to be answered. “Who will ensure confinement as the use of these fish proliferate in global markets?” she asks. “That’s the question to ask.”

And right now, nobody seems to know how that oversight would occur. Buyers of the genetically modified eggs will have to sign contracts with AquaBounty guaranteeing the fish will be raised in carefully confined conditions. In overseas markets, enforcement of those contractual guarantees would be left to the appropriate foreign authorities.

TU finds neither of those assurances protective enough. “AquaBounty may do everything in its power to keep these fish out of the wild, but as the technology becomes well known and as production ramps up with other people handling the fish, they may not be so good about following the rules,” warns Williams.

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