Genetically engineered salmon threaten more than wild salmon runs

AquaBounty fish are genetically modified to grow twice as quickly as regular salmon.
AquaBounty fish are genetically modified to grow twice as quickly as regular salmon. The salmon in the foreground is a natural Atlantic salmon, in the background is the AquAdvantage Transgenic salmon. Photo: AquaBounty Technologies

By Andrew Gobin, Tulalip News

Salmon is a crucial resource for many Salish tribes, including the Tulalip people who are historically referred to as the Salmon People for their relationship to the salmon. But what happens when there are no more salmon returning? What happens to the culture and identity of the Tulalip Tribes? Today, the ongoing discussion over the fish consumption rate and the proposed increase in water pollution allowed in watersheds around Washington State pose real threats to the survival of wild salmon, and in turn the Tulalip way of life. The salmon resource is already at a high risk for extinction, with wild Chinook (King Salmon) and Steelhead runs recently added to the endangered species list. Over the last four years a new threat has grown very rapidly, skirting around cultural and environmental policies through an ongoing debate under the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Genetically-engineered salmon, known as AquAdvantage Salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies, present risks to natural salmon production, the environment, and Tulalip culture and identity.

Mike Crewson of the Tulalip Tribes Natural Resource Department explained some of the immediate threats posed by AquAdvantage salmon.

“While genetically-modified agriculture has been permitted for years and engineered crops are widely used in processed foods, this would be the first genetically-modified animal allowed for human consumption in the United States.  Like other farmed fish, they will compete with the U.S. salmon market and tribal economies dependent on fishing, especially if the technology spreads,” he said.

AquAdvantage salmon are genetically-engineered using genes from different species of fish, not genetically modified through selective breeding techniques. AquaBounty uses a growth hormone gene from Chinook Salmon and a promoter gene from an eelpout (an eel-like fish) that speeds up the growth cycle. That combination of genetic code is then inserted into the DNA of Atlantic Salmon.  The eelpout gene keeps the Chinook growth-hormone gene producing year-round.  The result is an Atlantic salmon that grows to market size in 16-18 months rather than the three to five years required for Pacific salmon to reach full size. If the FDA approves genetically-engineered salmon for human consumption and they enter the market, they will be cheaper and grow much faster, which could decimate Puget Sound tribal economies and others dependent upon fishing.

The threat to genetic purity is crucial to realize in the genetically engineered salmon debate as well. A lawsuit recently filed in the State of Washington prevented the release of nearly one million hatchery steelhead throughout the state, under the guise of protecting natural steelhead runs from such consequences.

“The spotlight is on hatcheries right now, with particular undue scrutiny regarding the possible genetic effects hatchery fish could have on natural salmon populations. And that’s even when they come from the same stock as the wild fish,” explained Crewson. “State and federal regulators are even opposed to the transfer of native Pacific salmon between watersheds.  While fishermen and others remain unsure how this technology could compete with native Pacific salmon, especially if the technology spreads, it is highly doubtful that the fishery regulatory agencies would ever allow genetically-engineered salmon into a region with wild salmon populations.”

The FDA decided that AquAdvantage fish require no labeling, meaning that consumers would not know whether or not the salmon they purchase is genetically-engineered or modified. For the Tulalip Tribes, the salmon people, this poses a threat to the very essence of our cultural identity. Some would say, the general public has a right to know what they are eating, especially Tribal members who may buy salmon that they presume are native for cultural, subsistence, and religious purposes, such as the wild salmon celebrated at the annual First Salmon Ceremony.

“These cheaper, quickly-maturing, genetically-engineered salmon grown in hatcheries are just another gimmick that takes the focus off of the need to protect and restore salmon habitat and rebuild self-sustaining wild salmon populations. Essentially, this undermines the Tribes’ and other’s salmon recovery focus on rebuilding natural salmon runs by restoring habitat and protecting the environment needed to support healthy natural and hatchery production. There is not a need to develop genetically-engineered fish that live their whole life in hatcheries.  There is, however, a need to restore habitats and the environment to sustain long-term wild salmon populations to meet treaty-reserved harvest obligations,” Crewson said.

At the 40th Anniversary of the Boldt Decision in February, the late Billy Frank Jr. reiterated that the importance of protecting the future of the salmon resource was just as important as the right to harvest the resource. Because, if there is no resource, what good is your right?

To date, the Muckleshoot tribe is the only tribe in Washington State, if not the nation, to officially oppose the FDA consideration of genetically-engineered salmon for human consumption. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the National Congress of American Indians recently released official statements in support of Muckleshoot’s opposition.



Andrew Gobin: 360-716-4188;

National Congress of American Indians joins the Muckleshoot Tribe to oppose genetically engineered salmon

James Miller hoists a chinook salmon at the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery
James Miller hoists a chinook salmon at the Muckleshoot Tribe’s White River hatchery


Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the National Congress of American Indians are taking a stand against the threat of genetically engineered salmon.

“Creating genetically engineered salmon would mean that our traditional knowledge and relationship with salmon would pass out of our hands to a transnational corporation,” said Valerie Segrest, a traditional foods educator with the Muckleshoot Tribe.

The NCAI passed a resolution yesterday asking the federal government to reject a proposal to mix genetic material from chinook salmon and eel-like fish with Atlantic salmon, joining the Muckleshoot tribal council and ATNI. The genetically engineered fish would grow to full size in three months compared to three years for a natural salmon.

Because the genetic modifications to the salmon would be classified as a “food additive,” they would be protected under a patent as intellectual property. “It isn’t a stretch that these fish could eventually escape into the wild and spawn with naturally spawning fish or salmon in our hatcheries,” Segrest said. “At that point, a private corporation would have ownership of salmon in our streams and in our hatcheries.”

In more than 140 cases, a single company that owns patents on genetically modified plants has successfully sued farmers whose crops were unintentionally infected with genetically engineered seed. “These were cases where neighboring farms, obviously not trying to steal trade secrets, had genetically modified seeds cross pollinate with heritage seed stock in their fields through natural processes,” Segrest said. “We don’t want the same sort of thing to happen to our salmon. No one should own the genetic code of our salmon or our culture.”

Genetically modified salmon also wouldn’t provide the health benefits that naturally evolved salmon do. “These fish have less of the healthy proteins and fats that our wild salmon are famous for.” Segrest said.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the fish is that because they grow so fast, they also take in more pollution than a naturally evolved salmon. “Pollution is already a problem for tribal people who depend on fish and shellfish as part of their diet,” Segrest said. “These fish straying into the natural environment would magnify the pollution problems we’re already facing.”

Even though some major chains have vowed not to sell genetically engineered fish, the cost to the consumer would be so low that it would make livelihoods of tribal fishermen that much harder. “This fish wouldn’t have to be labeled in the grocery store,” Segrest said. “So you wouldn’t know if you were purchasing a fish caught by a tribal fishermen or one that was genetically modified.”

Genetically engineered salmon would drive a wedge into a relationship between Indian tribes and salmon, a relationship that has shaped our culture thousands of years. “Our way of life has evolved alongside salmon,” Segrest said. “Allowing genetically engineered fish into the food system, or accidentally allowing them into our streams, would cause irreversible DNA damage and negatively change how we depend on the salmon.”

Muckleshoot Tribe Urges Rejection of Genetically Engineered Salmon Application


Business Wire Source: Muckleshoot Indian Tribe

— The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has joined with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) in calling on the United States Food and Drug Administration to deny any application for the introduction of genetically engineered salmon into the United States until a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and further scientific review is completed and formal consultation with Northwest Treaty Tribes undertaken.

AquaBounty, a large Boston-based biotechnology company, has proposed to produce genetically engineered salmon eggs in Canadian waters, ship them to Panama where the engineered salmon would be raised to maturity in inland tanks, then slaughtered and processed in Panama and shipped to the United States for human consumption.

AquaBounty has patented a process whereby the DNA of wild Chinook salmon and an eel-like pout fish are fused and injected into Atlantic salmon. That engineered salmon is said to grow to full size in half the time of a wild fish and, according to AquaBounty, “increase the efficiency of production.”

According to federal guidelines, not only would the genetic engineering process and resultant salmon be owned by a corporation, but the fish would not be labeled as genetically modified so consumers wouldn’t know if they are buying it.

Northwest Tribes share a number of serious concerns about genetically engineered salmon, including the possibility of escape into the wild habitat and competing with wild salmon for food and rearing locations, or inbreeding with wild salmon which could result in the destruction of the species upon which all Indian people of the Pacific Northwest depend. Studies have not ruled out those possible impacts.

“From time immemorial salmon has been central to the culture, religion and society of Northwest Indian people,” said Virginia Cross, Muckleshoot Tribal Council Chair. “Genetically engineered salmon not only threaten our way of life, but could also adversely affect our treaty rights to take fish at our usual and accustomed places.”

In opposing FDA approval, the Muckleshoot Tribe and ATNI cite the precautionary principle, which states that habitat modification should not be undertaken until the full impacts are known and the natural and human environments are protected – and that the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls upon those proposing the action.

“The Coast Salish people have organized their lives around salmon for thousands of years,” said Valerie Segrest, Muckleshoot Tribal member and Native Foods Educator. “We see them as our greatest teachers, giving their lives for us to have life. Corporate ownership of such a cultural keystone is a direct attack on our identity and the legacy our ancestors have left us. Absent indisputable evidence that there is no harm in human consumption, wild fish habitat or the treaty-protected fishing rights of Northwest Indians the FDA must not permit the promised increase of production efficiency to trump sound science or fishing rights and culture of Northwest Indians.”

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GMO labeling debate shifts to Olympia


Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

by Associated Press

January 17, 2014

SEATTLE — Months after Washington voters narrowly rejected an initiative requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, lawmakers are reviving the GMO debate in Olympia.

One bill would require labeling genetically engineered salmon for sale, even though federal regulators have not yet approved any genetically modified animals for food. Another bill requires many foods containing GMOs to carry a label.

The debate comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of an apple engineered not to brown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also weighing an application for a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal.

In Olympia, a public hearing is scheduled Friday in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on the bill. That measure also would prohibit genetically engineered finfish from being produced in state waters

Objections mount as FDA reviews genetically engineered salmon

Published: March 5, 2013

By ERIKA BOLSTAD — Anchorage Daily News

WASHINGTON — Every summer since 1979, Kim Hubert has fished for sockeye salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. It’s a family business in tiny Togiak that has, from time to time, also employed his wife and three children.

Hubert and his 21-year-old daughter work the nets now. They’re small permit holders who may catch and sell thousands of salmon in their nets each year, depending on the success of the run.

“We’ve got a fish camp out there, we enjoy the people and the bay and the work,” said Hubert, 58, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Eagle River. “Some years we lose a few bucks, and some years we make a few.”

They and other fishermen have been casting a wary eye on Washington, where the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based company with a lab on Prince Edward Island in Canada and growing facilities in Panama, may sell genetically engineered salmon to consumers in the United States.

More than 33,000 fishermen, environmentalists, food safety advocates and others have written to the FDA with concerns about the agency’s preliminary findings. Among the worries is that the genetically engineered fish might escape and mix with wild salmon. The company says that’s unlikely, not only because the fish are sterile but also because of its production process.

But there’s a reason that Alaska bans salmon fish farms in the state, the Sitka Conservation Society, an environmental group in southeast Alaska, said in its letter to the FDA. They fear that the company will expand to the U.S., where the fish would be closer to native salmon populations.”

These farms pollute water with concentrated fish waste and feed, spread sea lice and ultimately lead to escapement and interbreeding,” the organization said. “If genetically modified salmon are permitted, it will be only a matter of time before they are muddling the pure wild population in Alaska.”

Mostly, though, fishermen in Alaska fear that the new, faster-growing farmed fish would threaten their livelihood eventually by flooding the market with cheap fish. They’re also pressing for the AquaBounty salmon to be labeled as genetically engineered because they think that their wild-caught, more expensive product is superior. They want no confusion in the marketplace.”

In some ways I felt threatened,” Hubert said. “The threat may not be immediate, but I think down the line there could be some repercussions. We’ve had a lot of issues with labeling, and the ability (of consumers) to choose and know where the fish come from: what kind of stocks, whether they’re farmed or wild fish.”

Aqua Bounty has applied for federal approval to commercially produce a growth-enhanced, transgenic Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). At 18 months, the transgenic fish is clearly much larger than the same-age normal fish. But overall growth of the same generation of fish evens out by 36 months. (Image Credit: Aqua Bounty Technologies)
Aqua Bounty has applied for federal approval to commercially produce a growth-enhanced, transgenic Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). At 18 months, the transgenic fish is clearly much larger than the same-age normal fish. But overall growth of the same generation of fish evens out by 36 months. (Image Credit: Aqua Bounty Technologies)

The AquaBounty fish are Atlantic salmon that have been genetically altered with growth genes from a Chinook salmon and a sea eel. That makes them grow faster than other farmed Atlantic salmon, although they don’t get any bigger than regular salmon.

The FDA issued a preliminary finding in late December that the fish, known as the AquAdvantage Salmon, is as safe as eating conventional Atlantic salmon and that there’s a reasonable certainty of no harm in consuming it. The agency also issued a draft environmental assessment that there’s little chance of environmental harm from farming the fish.

However, after pressure from Congress — especially from Alaska lawmakers — the FDA in February extended the public comment period on its findings by 60 days. People have until April 26 to weigh in, and after that the agency will decide whether to issue a final report or pursue a more comprehensive environmental impact statement.

AquaBounty executives aren’t currently granting interviews. The company’s last public statement came in mid-February, when the FDA announced that it would extend the comment period. AquaBounty Chief Executive Officer Ron Stotish said at the time that they weren’t pleased with the delay.

Some food safety advocates are pushing for the FDA to do a full environmental review. They’re also petitioning the agency to consider the AquaBounty fish as a food additive rather than as an animal drug. The FDA uses its animal drug process to consider the safety of all potential genetically modified animals sold as food.

That change would make the approval process more transparent, as well as focus on the safety of the salmon as food, said Patty Lovera, the assistant director of Food & Water Watch. It joined Consumers Union, which is the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, and the nonprofit Center for Food Safety to petition the FDA.”

We just think it’s really deficient on the food front,” Lovera said. “What do we really know about allergies? What do we know about nutrition profile? That stuff’s really sketchy in that application that they put in. And we’d like to see a lot more of that, considering you’re going to eat the whole thing.”

People and animals already consume plenty of genetically modified grains, which aren’t required to be labeled in the U.S. A ballot measure requiring such labeling failed recently in California.

But the fish are the first genetically engineered animals being considered for human consumption in the U.S., and the approval process is being closely watched in the biotech field.

There’s a huge market for heart-healthy fish: Salmon is the second most popular seafood consumed in the U.S., behind tuna. And an estimated 91 percent of the seafood consumed in this country is imported; about half of that is from aquaculture.

Even if the AquaBounty fish is approved, however, supermarkets won’t be flooded with genetically engineered fish anytime soon, said Gregory Jaffe, the director of biotechnology at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy organization. Jaffe was on the FDA advisory panel that reviewed the safety of the salmon in 2010 and found no cause for alarm.

AquaBounty would have to reapply to the FDA to expand operations.

“They talked about hundreds of tons of salmon a year. We import hundreds of thousands of tons of salmon a year,” Jaffe said. “So maybe it’ll be slightly easier to eat one of these salmon steaks than to win the lottery. But if someone wanted to find one of these salmon steaks out there to eat, it’s going to take a little effort.

“That hasn’t stopped lawmakers from Western states from fighting the FDA findings — or at a minimum, seeking a requirement that genetically engineered salmon be labeled. Consumer groups are making the same push.

“Any fish that is labeled as wild-caught, or Alaskan, might see some of its market actually go up,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist for Consumers Union. “Since this will not be labeled, people would not know whether the regular salmon they’re buying is engineered or not.

“In his mid-February statement, AquaBounty’s Stotish noted that no new facts had been introduced since the FDA’s findings late last year and that the company doesn’t think the additional comment period “materially affects our chances for approval.”

“There has been neither new information nor a clear legal or regulatory issue raised by the FDA since that time,” he said in the statement.

AquaBounty says in its press materials that it wants its fish to be labeled “Atlantic salmon.” The company says the nutritional and biological composition of its AquAdvantage Salmon is identical to Atlantic salmon, and therefore doesn’t require additional labeling based on its method of production.

The company notes that it supports voluntary branding by the farmers who grow its salmon, to identify what it calls “the environmentally friendly benefits of this product.”

An FDA spokeswoman, Theresa Eisenman, said a decision hadn’t yet been made regarding labeling AquAdvantage Salmon.

The FDA since 1992 has considered bioengineered foods to be no different from other foods “in any meaningful or uniform way.” The agency supports voluntary labeling that provides consumers with such information, however.



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FDA set to approve Genetically Engineered Salmon

Article by Monica Brown

The Food and Drug Administration has given their approval, pending a 60 day public debate, of the AquAdvantage Salmon developed by the Massachusetts based company Aquabouty Technology. The salmon was developed out of need from the growing human population which outweighs the current salmon population.

The AquAdvantage Salmon have been genetically engineered from Atlantic Chinook to grow at a faster rate on small amounts of food and are made specifically to be sterile females to help prevent reproducing with wild salmon. The idea behind the genetically engineered salmon (GES) to be female is a precaution to prevent escaped salmon from mingling with the wild salmon, had they been sterile males they would cause a disturbance in the spawning grounds by fighting over territory with male wild salmon. Although, Aquabounty has stated there is a slight chance that a small percentage of females may be fertile, but state the chance of them escaping to the wild are very slim.

According to FDA regulations, upon approval, the GES will be required to be grown in a physically contained system to prevent escape and at approved facilities only. When placed at the marketplace the GES will not be required to have any special labels or markings due to the fact that they are genetically the same as wild salmon and pose no threat for human consumption.

The imposition the GES will make on the environment and human diet is still dependent on the future consumption of the salmon.  As well as the impact it will make on the economy in the lives of Atlantic Fishermen. Since it is not clear yet how far the GES will be shipped, and we won’t be able to tell by labels or on restaurant menus, it prefer wild salmon to either fish for it yourself or get it from someone you know.

If you would like to comment on the Aquadvantage Salmon, the comment section for the 60 day public debate can be accessed here. Comments will be accepted until February 25, 2013!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0899-0003

Comments by others may be viewed here!docketDetail;D=FDA-2011-N-0899