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By Tammera J. Karr, PhD, CNC, BCIH, CNW, CNH
September in the Pacific Northwest for many means grabbing their salmon poles, spinners, herring plugs, fish eggs and washing down their boats with joy dish-soap. The crisp fall air lends itself to local mania for bright salmon, fish tales and perusing the local tackle shops. All is right in the world… or is it.
The FDA is in the process of approving a genetically modified salmon for human consumption, they say at this time they have no reason to believe it is harmful to humans… Ok what happens if these modified fish escape their hatchery nets like fish often do, and they breed with wild salmon? Fish in these farming environments already escape into the wild by the millions every year. What are the potential ramifications to the ecosystem, aqua businesses and the species as a whole? If approved, the genetically-modified (GM) salmon — known as AquAdvantage — will be the first GM animal officially authorized for human consumption in the U.S.
Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc., the company responsible for the new salmon, has been seeking approval from the FDA since 1995. By programming salmon genes to continuously produce growth hormone, scientists from the company have been able to make their engineered fish grow to full size in less than 250 days, as opposed to the 400 days it takes for a natural Atlantic salmon to grow. Aqua-Bounty researchers have told the FDA the production of GM fish will improve the fish economy and reduce environmental stress.
The company claims that the fish are sterile, pose no environmental or health threats and taste like real fish, but not everyone is convinced. Previous studies have shown the opposite to be true. In 1999, researchers from Purdue University found transgenic fish are more attractive to other fish because of their abnormally large size. So they beat out real fish in attracting breeding mates, which can cause serious problems if introduced into the wild.
The same study also found the offspring of transgenic fish live very short lives. According to the university report, 60 fertile GM fish placed in a population of 60,000 native fish could destroy the entire native stock in as little as 20 years. Despite claims this could never occur because the fish are sterile, many experts say the DNA in GM fish will mutate over time and cause them to be able to breed. They could then spread their DNA to other species, altering the genetic makeup of fish everywhere.
Now let me first point out that Atlantic salmon is not a true salmon and the food quality of this sea going trout, what we call steelhead, is inferior to Alaskan, British Canadian or Pacific Northwest salmon called Coho, King, Chinook or Sockeye. These fish live in the ocean for 7 years and only return to the inland streams when it is time to breed, and die. While they are living in the ocean they are living on shrimp, krill, and smaller fish. Not the standard fish hatchery or farm food fair of soy, corn, wheat and protein bi-products. These fish are at the apex of their world, and that is not a vegetarian world.
Atlantic salmon are also exposed to large quantities of toxins from runoff water in the eastern United States. The high levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, PCB’s and prescription medications, not only affects the overall health of the fish but of those who consume them…US. One more strike against Atlantic salmon that are farm raised is the balance of omega 3 to omega 6 oil. This ratio is off due to the differences in the diet of wild fish verses farmed. The foods consumed in the wild are high in omega 3 oils found to prevent heart disease, diabetes, depression and inflammation. Corn, soy and grains elevate omega 6 levels in the fish, reducing the health benefits and actually increasing inflammation because too much omega 6 converts into prostaglandin 2s, that drive degenerative illnesses.
According to a recent Reuters article, the FDA has failed to release any of the safety data about Aqua Bounty’s GM fish, so nobody can say for sure what the health effects are. But concerned groups say that, like other GM foods, AquAdvantage fish may cause allergies, digestive problems and other serious illness. “To date, there have been no studies conducted proving that any GM foods are safe for human consumption. And the studies that have been conducted show that tampering with nature at the genetic level only causes problems for people and the environment, not benefits”. Stated Dr. Michael Antoniou, a British molecular scientist.
Call me old fashioned but I think nature has done a pretty great job of making animals. I’m not convinced we can do a better job. The FDA will not be requiring the manufactures of Frankinfish to label their product as a GM food – you the consumer may have no idea what you are eating, has been genetically altered. What will our DNA think of this food? We already know our DNA looks for specific links to tie into for healthy replication, will GM foods fail to meet our DNA needs and increase cancer, genetically passed diseases or increase rapid aging? Personally I don’t know, and I’m not about to eat fish that is manmade.
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