More concern voiced on GM fish
More concern voiced on genetically engineered fish
The Cordova Times, 23 December 2011
A Senate subcommittee looking into risks posed by genetically engineered fish heard concerns in mid-December that these fish could escape their pens and compete with other fish for food, territory and mates.
"At a minimum, the escaped fish would have effects similar to invasive species by competing with other fish for food, territory and mates, or by otherwise altering the food chain," said Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, D- West Virginia, in testimony given Dec. 15 to the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard on the environmental risks of these fish.
Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in his written testimony that the hearing could not be timelier, as the federal Food and Drug Administration may be finalizing approval of the first genetically engineering animal for human consumption.
The AquAdvantage salmon has been engineered to grow faster and heartier than its natural counterpart by mixing genes from three different fish species, so its filets can quickly get from the fish pen to your dinner table, Rockefeller said.
"Yet, concerns abound with opening the door to the creation of genetically engineered animals for food," he said. "Food safety is an obvious point of contention, but a more insidious consequence of these fish is the havoc they could wreak on our natural fish stocks and aquatic ecosystems," Rockefeller said. "Were these fish ever to escape into the wild, the impacts could be disastrous..
"It's clear to me that we need to operate under the assumption that these fish will escape, and that warrants a thorough examination of the harm this could cause," he said. "Ultimately, I'm very concerned that these fish haven't received the scrutiny that's due," he said.
Ron Stotish, president and chief executive officer of AquaBounty Technologies Inc., which is seeking FDA approval for its genetically modified Atlantic salmon, also addressed the subcommittee session chaired by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.
Begich has introduced S. 1717, to ban interstate commerce of genetically engineering salmon.
Stotish noted that the United States currently imports some 300,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon each year from a variety of foreign producing countries, but produces less than 17,000 metric tons from aquaculture.
The ability to produce Atlantic salmon in land based aquaculture systems in the U.S. could reduce our dependence upon foreign sources, and create a U.S. based industry with the accompanying jobs and economic development opportunities,” Stotish said.
“The availability of a fresh and desirable Atlantic salmon product closure to U.S. consumers would also reduce the sizeable carbon footprint associated with transport of large volume of this food over great distances as is the current practice,” he said.
“Lastly, the cultivation of Atlantic salmon would not likely impact the wild caught Alaskan salmon fishery market as this produce is well positioned both with respect to brand and price,” Stotish said.
But others testifying before the committee echoed Rockefeller’s concerns about escapement of the genetically engineered fish into wild fish populations and possible adverse consequences.
John Epifanio, a fish conservation geneticist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and University of Illinois, also questioned the consequences of potential escapement.
While containment and engineered sterility may, in fact, reduce the probability of escape or reproduction, these do not completely remove risks of escape, reproduction or ecological interference,” Epifanio said. "A robust and formal risk assessment is warranted."
Epifanio also told the subcommittee that it needs to consider the scientific issues surrounding the risks of genetically engineered salmon and other fishes based on the appropriate and full-range of scientific fields to shape the policy discussions.
"Based on analogous concerns and risks from release of fishes genetically altered in more traditional or convention ways, the risks appear to be all too real, albeit to an insufficiently understood extent," he said.
Fisheries author and journalist Paul Greenberg also questioned the introduction of genetically engineered fish, saying that the AquAdvantage salmon "is an idea whose time has passed, even if genetically engineered animals are perceived as belonging to the future.
"Problems that plagued the salmon farming industry, when the AquAdvantage fish was first conceived over a decade ago poor feed conversion, inability to grow salmon in containment, poor management of wild salmon fisheries have been addressed in the intervening period," Greenberg said.
"The AquAdvantage salmon is therefore a kind of Solyndra fish," he said. "A technology that has been made irrelevant by advances elsewhere in the marketplace yet which, for some reason still seems to draw taxpayer dollars in the form of research and development investment. This in spite it's a lack of germane benefits to the improvement of the global food system," he said. "This fish is not worth the risk."