[env-trinity] Gene-splice salmon a risky unknown --

Mark Dowdle - TCRCD mdowdle at tcrcd.net
Mon Nov 22 13:55:34 PST 2010

*Gene-spliced salmon a risky unknown*

*Sacramento Bee-11/20/10 *

*By Noelle Ferdon and Rick Guerrero *


Although fish may not be on the menu for your Thanksgiving Day feast, 
its fate for future meals hangs in the balance. The Food and Drug 
Administration is on the verge of approving the first genetically 
engineered fish for human consumption: an Atlantic salmon crossed with 
the genes of two other fish to make it grow twice as quickly as a normal 

If the FDA approves the fish, it may not even be labeled as genetically 
engineered. Consumers would have no way of knowing whether they were 
eating a natural salmon or a mutant farmed fish whose impact on human 
health and the environment is still largely unknown. The last day for 
public comment is Monday. Comments can be submitted at 
www.regulations.gov, docket No. FDA-2010-N-0385.

A federal bill that would ban the production of genetically engineered 
fish (HR 6265) was recently introduced to put the brakes on the FDA's 
runaway process. Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui should take a stand and 
co-sponsor this bill.

It is not just seafood-loving consumers who should worry about the 
future of their next salmon fillet if genetically engineered farmed 
salmon are OK'd. Our local salmon and the communities that depend on 
them, would be at risk, too.

Pacific Coast fisheries have been in a state of crisis for several 
years. The number of salmon in the Sacramento River fell from 800,000 in 
2002 to under 40,000 in 2009. Up and down the West Coast, commercial 
salmon fisheries have closed for the last few years, costing an 
estimated 23,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in lost revenue.

Farmed salmon already threaten wild stocks, escaping by the millions 
each year from ocean pens. There, they compete for resources, spread 
disease and reduce biodiversity. Genetically engineered salmon could be 
even more dangerous to wild fish, as their quick growth makes them more 
voracious and aggressive (think salmon on steroids) and more likely to 
outcompete wild fish for food.

In a letter sent to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in September, 14 
California legislators registered deep concern that "approval (of 
AquaBounty's petition) will lead to numerous other applications to grow 
this and other genetically modified fish. ... California's wild salmon 
runs are at historical lows and are not capable of withstanding an 
additional assault that could come from escaped genetically modified 
farmed salmon in the future."

The legislators also point out that California law prohibits the rearing 
of genetically engineered salmon or any transgenic fish in our ocean 
waters. FDA approval could pre-empt California from enforcing this law. 
Even if it did not, flooding the market with genetically engineered 
farmed salmon raised elsewhere would undercut local producers of wild 
Pacific Coast salmon -- much like cheap farmed shrimp from foreign 
operations has driven the few sustainable, local shrimperies left in the 
United States toward bankruptcy.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have sent letters to the FDA 
expressing concern over the FDA's shoddy approval process of genetically 
engineered salmon.

Experts, including scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
believe that insufficient research has been done on the risks of raising 
or eating genetically engineered salmon. The FDA only considered studies 
conducted by AquaBounty or its contractors, not independent scientists.

The rapid approval of genetically engineered salmon would open the 
floodgates for other transgenic food animals. It would also reduce 
political pressure to restore our natural salmon runs. But we must 
restore them: their health is critical to our fishing communities, our 
economy, Pacific tribal cultures and our state's biodiversity.

It would be a mistake for our legislators to allow the approval of 
genetically engineered salmon, particularly at a time when our 
unemployment rate is at an all-time high and efforts to restore our wild 
salmon fisheries are in full force.

Matsui sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which allocates 
funding for the FDA. She has an especially important role to play in 
protecting our health and the critical salmon habitat that helps define 
the Sacramento region. She can lead on this issue by co-sponsoring HR 
6265 and by directing the FDA to develop a robust process for 
considering genetically engineered animal applications.

Our fisheries are nearing the point of no return. We need federal and 
state investment in their restoration, not a science experiment that 
uses our plates -- and our environment -- as a Petri dish.#

/Noelle Ferdon is senior organizer with the consumer advocacy group Food 
& Water Watch. Rick Guerrero is president of the Green Democratic Club 
of Sacramento County./


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