To celebrate the anniversary of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of our AquAdvantage Salmon for commercial production and consumption, we are posting a series of articles that have appeared over the past year and prior. The following article by William Saletan appeared in Slate.
The FDA approved a genetically engineered animal for human consumption. The campaign against it is based on fear, not facts.
On Thursday, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration approved a genetically engineered animal for human consumption. It’s a salmon that grows much faster than other salmon, thanks to an inserted gene.
Some environmentalists are assailing the decision. They call the salmon “Frankenfish.” Their objections sound a lot like previous allegations against genetically engineered crops. The allegations against GE crops didn’t stand up, as a Slate investigation showed, and it doesn’t look as though the arguments against GE salmon will stand up, either. Let’s examine them.
One complaint against the salmon is that it endangers consumers’ “personal health,” that it “could cause human allergies,” and that it’s been approved based on “insufficient safety testing.” In the case of GE plants, these scary what-if arguments are unfalsifiable, based on speculation about chemical properties and ever-expanding demands for longer study periods and bigger samples. The GE salmon was initially submitted for FDA approval 20 years ago. The agency declared it safe in 2010 and then spent another five years reviewing objections. Thursday’s statement says the FDA has concluded that the salmon is “safe to eat” and is “as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon.” It also says the genetic change is “safe for the fish itself.”
A second worry is that the salmon could breed with other species and endanger “wild fish populations and ecosystems.” In a statement from Alaska’s congressional delegation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski calls the salmon a “science experiment” and a threat to “the health of Americans and the sustainability of our fisheries.” A press release from Friends of the Earth quotes a fish company owner, who says:
There were over 250 million wild salmon harvested in Alaska and Puget Sound this year. Why should we put this sustainable resource at risk for the benefit of a few multinational corporations who will, sooner or later, introduce GE salmon into their floating feed lots? Americans will be eating synthetic salmon, thinking they are receiving the nutritional benefits of wild salmon.
The FDA’s statement addresses this concern. It says that under restrictions imposed by the agency, the GE salmon “would not have a significant environmental impact because of the multiple and redundant measures being taken to contain the fish and prevent their escape and establishment in the environment.” The fish are all female and sterile, and they would be grown in landlocked tanks, which would be government-inspected. Read the article.