AquAdvantage sounds like a home drinking water system, or a flood insurance policy that your Uncle Bob might try to sell you at Thanksgiving. It might even be a top-of-the-line jet ski, or premium swim goggles. The one thing it doesn’t sound like is something that should be on your plate.
That may change in the next few months, if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules that AquaBounty Technology’s 20-year project to build a better salmon has merit for the marketplace, and a good shot at not harming the public or the environment.
The oddly spliced names, AquaBounty and its super-creation AquAdvantage, suggest something more than an ad agency’s hollow reinvention; splicing is central to the process that transforms a mild-mannered salmon into one that grows faster, hungers for more, shows aggression, and contains an altered balance of nutrients. By splicing genes from the Chinook salmon and the eel-like ocean pout into the Atlantic salmon’s DNA, the company ensures that each fish has a growth hormone stuck on high volume.
As with other types of genetic modification of food, the result is to add margins to profit by subtracting majesty from nature.
If approved, AquAdvantage salmon may be hard to avoid. It seems unlikely the government would require labeling to distinguish it from natural varieties. The good news is that an active mutiny has already begun. The Campaign for GE-Free Seafood, a project of such organizations as Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety, has won commitments from nearly 5,000 stores across the U.S. not to sell any type of genetically modified seafood. Retailers pledging to reject GMO salmon include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target.
In a recent article, Friends of the Earth listed some of the key concerns: “According to a peer-reviewed study published . . . in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, GE [genetically engineered] salmon can cross-breed with brown trout, a closely related species. . . . The new hybrids outgrew and outcompeted both the wild types and the GM salmon, meaning that in the case of escape, however low, these fish could have huge environmental impacts.
“Though AquaBounty claims that they will only produce sterile females, the FDA only requires 95 percent of the eggs produced to be sterile, meaning that up to 5 percent can be reproductively viable, and data submitted by the company shows that its sterilization process is not guaranteed. . . .
“According to the Ocean Conservancy, six chemicals (including folic acid, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc) are more than 10 percent different between the GE salmon and conventionally farmed salmon. . . . [In addition] GE salmon have 40 percent higher levels of the hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), which may increase the risk of certain cancers if absorbed and biologically active in the human body.”
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