Entries in Salmon (3)


Genetically Engineered Salmon Nears FDA Approval

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Genetically engineered salmon could make its way onto plates in the new year, but your body won't notice anything fishy about the filet, experts say.

The Food and Drug Administration has determined genetically engineered salmon won't threaten the environment, clearing it of all but one final hurdle before it shows up on shelves throughout the nation -- and igniting a final 60-day debate before it's officially approved over whether it poses health risks.

Although it's been nicknamed "Frankenfish" by critics, health professionals say they aren't worried the lab-engineered salmon will cause more allergies or other harmful effects than does any other breed of fish.

"The hard science part is that we have been creating [animals] using genes and natural selection for years to genetically predict what kinds of food, animals, and recreational animals and such we have on our planet," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

He cited thoroughbred horses, show dogs and crops as examples of genetically engineered plants and animals dating back centuries.

"When farmer Jones did it in his cornfield to try to get a better crop, it didn't bother people," Schaffner said.  "When scientist Jones did the same thing in a much more sophisticated fashion in a lab, that does bother people."

A biotech company in Massachusetts called AquaBounty created the AquaAdvantage salmon, which is really an Atlantic salmon with an added Pacific salmon gene to make it grow faster and an added eel gene to make it grow year-round.

The end result is a fish that tastes like an Atlantic salmon but grows twice as fast, making it cheaper to produce and sell.  Because the FDA likely won't require a label that says the salmon was genetically modified, consumers won't know the difference.

Schaffner thinks genetically engineered food is one way to help solve world hunger and, as long as the FDA thoroughly reviews it, there shouldn't be a problem.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said he's been disappointed with FDA decisions on genetically modified food since 1992, when the FDA determined it is equivalent to any other food.  He said there's not enough science to allow AquaAdvantage onto our dinner plates, but the biotech industry has had so much influence in Congress that it's been impossible to stop it.

"Now this latest action by the FDA somehow determined that the salmon is safe -- safe for who?" Kucinich asked.  "Safe for the investors?"

Kucinich has introduced legislation related to genetically modified food and labeling in every Congress since 1997, but it has never passed.  He said Monsanto, the $2 billion company that produces genetically modified seed and pesticides, is partially to blame because it has so much money and influence.

AquaBounty, the biotech firm that makes AquaAdvantage, contributed less than $150,000 toward lobbying Congress over the last three years, according to campaign finance records available on  In contrast, Monsanto spent more than $19 million lobbying over the same time period.

Kucinich said the AquaAdvantage issue is a complex one, and worries whether the genetically altered fish will hurt naturally occurring wild fish populations by overfeeding, because they grow twice as fast as their naturally occurring relatives.  However, the most recent FDA finding showed that this is not a concern because the fish are mostly sterile and not expected to escape their man-made farms.

The eggs will be made in a lab on Prince Edward Island and the fish will be harvested in Panama, according to a May AquaBounty report published by the FDA last week.  Although the study said the fish pose no environmental risk, it noted that up to five percent of the fish could be fertile, even though they're engineered to be sterile females.

There's also some concern that the fish could cause more food allergies, bloggers and activists have said.  But Steve Taylor, a food science and technology professor at the University of Nebraska, said it's unlikely.

People allergic to fish are allergic to a protein called parvalbumin, which is required for fish muscle function, Taylor said, adding that because being allergic to fish means being allergic to all fish, it's unlikely that the AquaAdvantage fish would be any different: people allergic to the fish protein will also to be allergic to AquaAdvantage.

"The only thing you need to worry about with genetically modified food is that there is a novel protein that's not present in other forms of salmon," he said.  "Does that unique protein have an allergenic potential?  With the salmon, that's not a concern because that's what they looked at very carefully."

But Patty Lovera, the assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit food activism group, said the testing has been largely conducted by AquaBounty, the company behind the genetically engineered fish, and that testing has only been reviewed by the FDA, which she said isn't good enough.  She thinks the FDA should conduct its own studies because she is concerned that engineering across species will create an unforeseen mutation that could be harmful to consumers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


AquaBounty Hoping to Serve DNA-Altered Salmon on US Plates

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Deep in the rainforests of Panama, in a secret location behind padlocked gates, barbed-wire fences and over a rickety wooden bridge, grows what could be the most debated food product of our time.

It may look like the 1993 hit movie Jurassic Park, but at this real-life freshwater farm scientists are altering the genes not of dinosaurs, but of fish.

They are growing a new DNA-altered saltwater fish in the mountains, far from the sea -- a salmon that could be the first genetically altered animal protein approved for the world to eat. If it is approved, this would be a landmark change for human food.

But it is one critics call "Frankenfish."

"The idea of changing an animal form, I think, is really creepy," said Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, an organic dairy farm. "When you move the DNA from a species into another species ... you create a new lifeform that's so new and so unique that you can get a patent for it."


And until now, AquaBounty, the multinational biotech company that for 20 years has been developing this giant fish, has kept it under close wraps.

The press has never been invited to its Prince Edward Island laboratory on the Canadian maritime coast, and its fish farm location in Panama has been kept secret out of fear of sabotage.

The Food and Drug Administration has seen it, but few from the outside. In fact, the last public tour of any kind was four years ago.

ABC News was given exclusive access to see the facilities up close and an opportunity to taste this mysterious fish that FDA scientists say "is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon," although have yet to officially approve it for public sale.

Ron Stotish, the president and CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, the company that created and hopes to market the eggs of this salmon to independent fish farms around the world, told ABC News it has employed bio-security measures, creating a "Fort Knox for fish," to ensure safety for the fish and prevent cross-contamination with the wild.

Entry to both facilities begins with body suits and iodine baths for shoes, which serves to keep the fish safe from germs.

Inside these protected tanks, America gets the first up-close look at the final product, the fish that has the food police up in arms.

"These are very healthy, beautiful Atlantic salmon," Stotish said.

With one big difference -- the growth rate of a regular salmon compared to that of an AquaBounty genetically modified fish.

While the AquaBounty fish do not grow to a size larger than normal salmon, they get to full size much faster, cutting costs for producers.

A normal-size 1-year-old Atlantic salmon averages 10 inches long, while the genetically modified fish at the same age is more than two times larger, coming in at 24 inches.

Salmon is the second-most popular seafood in America. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average size of an Atlantic salmon is 28 inches to 30 inches and 8 pounds to 12 pounds after two years at sea.

How do they accomplish the accelerated growth?

"They differ by a single gene," Stotish said.

But, it's that single gene change that makes the DNA-altered salmon grow much faster than a normal Atlantic salmon, because it's really three fish in one.

AquaBounty scientists have taken a growth gene from the Chinook salmon and inserted it into the DNA of the Atlantic salmon because Chinooks grow fast from birth, while Atlantics do not.

"Salmon in their first two years of life grow very slowly," Stotish said.

Then there is one more genetic alteration -- a growth switch from a sea eel also is inserted in the Atlantic salmon DNA because natural salmon normally only grow in summer. The eel grows all year round.

John Buchanan, the director of research and development for AquaBounty, has been working on the salmon for two decades and explained that the change allows the fish to start growing from birth.

"You get to market size at least 12 months before any other type of salmon out there," Buchanan said.

AquaBounty says the fish are ready for market and it now wants the FDA to give final approval of what it calls the AquaAdvantage salmon for American dinner plates.

Already 80 percent of U.S. corn, soybeans and sugar beets are genetically altered, but until now ... never meat.

"It opens up a whole other section of the grocery store, to a technology which we think is still not fully understood," said Patty Lovera, the assistant director of consumer rights group Food & Water Watch.

Sensitive to criticism that these fish could escape into the wild and wipe out natural salmon, AquaBounty is anxious to show what it says are 16 redundant safety nets to keep their fish inside.

"We've been operating this facility for more than 20 years and we've never lost a single fish," Stotish said.

Another safeguard, Stotish explains, is that these super-fish are sterile.

"These animals can't transmit their genetic information to generations. They're incapable of breeding and that's perhaps the most important part," he said.

That assures nothing can go wrong with this fish altered by science to grow and get to market faster, he said.

"This fish is identical to traditional salmon in every measurable way," Stotish said.

Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union, said he thinks science has gone too far though.

"I wouldn't want to eat this fish, unless it's gone through a proper approval process," he said.

There is no proven link between genetically altered food and health problems, but critics are skeptical about AquaBounty studies and complain government scientists have not done enough independent work, and ignore the unknown.

They worry, but have no proof that this new fish will increase allergies, and they theorize its altered hormone system could somehow cause cancer. The FDA's review of company data found those concerns unfounded.

But Hansen remained skeptical.

"That kind of science wouldn't make it past a high school science fair," he said.

When ABC News asked AquaBounty whether eating its fish should be cause for concern or fear, the company argued that DNA is in everything a person eats.

"You eat DNA every time you swallow," Stotish said. "You consume DNA with every food that you eat."

But when pressed by ABC News about the difference in the fish's altered DNA, Stotish responded that the alteration comes from a nearly identical fish and if eaten will make consumers healthier.

"The gene that's responsible for the rapid growth comes from the Chinook salmon, a Pacific salmon, that protein is essentially identical to the same protein that's produced by Atlantic salmon," Stotish said. "You have healthier levels of Omega 3-fatty acids, you will be consuming a very lean source of protein."

ABC News was offered an opportunity to taste the DNA-altered salmon to see whether there is a difference in flavor or texture. None was noticed.

Currently, there are almost no commercial wild Atlantic salmon left in the world and virtually everything consumers purchase at the store is raised in ocean pens at salmon farms as far away as Chile or Norway.

AquaBounty argues its freshwater fish will be raised closer to big cities and be fresher and environmentally friendlier because there will be no need to ship them from overseas.

"Man has been altering the nature of animals since man walked upright and began domesticating animals," Stotish said. "The beef that we consume, the pork we consume today don't resemble their early ancestors at all."

If FDA approval doesn't come soon, AquaBounty says its 20-year investment will go belly-up -- which the company says will be a setback for its investors and for science.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Genetically Modified Salmon to Go Before FDA

Courtesy ABC News

UPDATE: This is a test.

(Test) It looks like any other salmon, but opponents call it FrankenFish and hope to keep it off your dinner plate.

If a company called Aqua Bounty Technologies has its way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve its application for genetically engineered salmon eggs that will grow into full-size salmon in half the time it takes regular salmon.

The FDA will hold public hearings on the genetically modified salmon starting next week. The agency will also review the safety and efficacy of the genetic modification.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio