The Use and Misuse of Science: A Commentary on Transgenic Salmon

Transgenic technology is a new high-tech tool developed by scientists to increase productivity and profitability of commercial food production, while at the same time increasing sustainability of food resources. Atlantic salmon is one example of such a nutritious limited food source. Our oceans cannot keep up with consumer demands for fish, a commodity that is not only highly sought after due to its culinary appeal, but is increasingly seen as healthy alternative to red meat. A transgenic line of Atlantic salmon (AquAdvantage salmon) was genetically engineered (GE) to grow faster by inserting an additional salmon growth hormone gene. The fast growth increases the annual output of aquaculture farms and also increases the efficiency of feed conversion (i.e., they need less food to produce the same amount of food compared with their slower growing, non-GE counterparts). Also, these GE-fish will be grown in contained, land-based facilities, preventing escape of the fish to the ocean and allowing general expansion of salmon aquaculture to meet growing demand without expanding the use of ocean net pens.

In addition to undergoing a thorough safety evaluation by the FDA, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) established a grants program (Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants) to develop methodologies and collect data to assess any risks associated from the application of such biotechnologies designed to provide solutions to food production problems. I was one of the first to obtain funding from this program. As a population geneticist, my proposal was to develop general methodologies to assess the potential environmental impact of escape of GE animals. After my research, I concluded that the GE salmon presented little or no environmental risk.

Further, the FDA conducted thorough safety analysis of the AquAdvantage salmon over a 15-year period. This process recently culminated with an FDA-hosted public meeting last year highlighted by the release of a comprehensive health and safety briefing and an environmental assessment package by the FDA. A Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) was publically convened as well, for third-party review of the FDA’s finding. Summarizing 15 years of data review, the FDA publically stated that they found no issues regarding the safety of AquAdvantage salmon, and the VMAC summary indicated no findings of concern in their review.

Despite FDA’s determination that AquAdvantage salmon is “as safe to eat as food from conventional Atlantic salmon,” critics continue to raise concerns relating to allergenicity, levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and composition of polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as the potential impacts of the fish on the natural environment. Researchers have systematically gone through each of these concerns and showed that they were unfounded and/or selectively misused science to again support a protectionist or anti-GE agenda.

Last month, the FDA cleared the AquAdvantage salmon and the proposal is now at the White House Office of Management and Budget for consideration. However, there are many groups protesting its approval. I believe AquAdvantage salmon is as safe to eat as its non-GE counterparts and pose less of a risk of harm to native salmon than domesticated salmon reared in net pens. I urge the U.S. government to approve the fish for commercial production and consumption. The result would be a win-win-win for environmental sustainability, farmer profitability, and availability of a healthy food to consumers.

William MuirWilliam Muir
Professor of Animal Sciences
Purdue University

5 Responses

  1. Have people been consuming this fish? And if so are there any known sideffects?

  2. Shame on IFT for running this outrageous advertisement paid for by the GMO industry.

    We know for a FACT, that GMO crops fed to laboratory animals cause massive increases in the size of liver, kidney and spleen in these animals. We know for a FACT, that GMO crops fed to laboratory animals cause sterility in the third and subsequent generations. We know for a FACT, that the Bt gene/protein inserted into Monsanto’s corn and soy are transferring to the gut/mucosa of laboratory animals wherein those animals become LIVING PESTICIDE FACTORIES.

    GMO is a completely unproved and DEADLY, life-disaffirming technology and GMO salmon is no different than plant GMO.

    I’m appalled at IFT would run this column from a man who is paid by the GMO industry. Those of us in the design of products, from food to beverages, are RESPONSIBLE for the safety of billions of individuals around the world, and it is our INHERENT duty to protect future generations from these poisons.

    Tony B. Rich, President
    Wellcorps International, LLC

  3. Is that not an outrageous advertisement by Tony B. Rich for a company which presumably pays him?

    GM is a competitor for Wellcorps International LLC’s products; and what he is doing above is the age-old salesman’s ploy of “knocking the competition”.

    He should learn that shouting (in capitals) pseudo-scientific assertions
    does not make them facts.

    I am neither an ideological supporter nor an ideological opponent of GM, nor do I receive any payment from either camp. Instead, as a scientist I take the position of the vast majority of scientists worldwide, as expressed in the International Union of Food Science & Technology’s Scientific Information Bulletin on Biotechnology and Food
    http://iufost.org/sites/default/files/docs/IUF.SIB.Biotechnology.rev.pdf
    endorsing the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) statement:

    ‘As IFST (2008) has stated: “Food scientists and technologists can support the responsible introduction of GM techniques provided that issues of product safety, environmental concerns, ethics and information are satisfactorily addressed so that the benefits that this technology can confer become available both to improve the quality of the food supply and to help feed the worldʼs escalating population in the coming decades.” ‘

    Finally, with GM, each instance needs to be assessed scientifically as an individual case. Anyone who seeks to make a blanket approval or a blanket condemnation of all GM is behaving foolishly or misleadingly.

  4. I recommend eating wild caught salmon. Bill thinks you and your children should be eating fish treated with testosterone to become transexual. One of the primary concerns of developing a genetically mutated animal is the unknown risk of introducing such animals into the wild. In this case the fear is addressed by producing an infertile female population of fish the transsexual “neomale” fathers. How do they that? Well it is not like how your parent explained the birds and the bees…

    1. Select genetically altered female salmon.
    2. Treat the sperm of male Arctic Char (a different species of fish) with radiation.
    3. Mix the irradiated sperm with eggs from the genetically altered female salmon.
    4. The resulting genetically altered female salmon are then treated with 17-Methyl Testosterone. This causes them to produce male genitals and sperm.
    5. These “NeoMale” are then killed. Their sperm is surgically removed and is used to fertilize eggs from conventional female Atlantic Salmon.
    6. Fertilized eggs are then subjected to pressure shock treatment in order to render the offspring Triploid. The cells divide with an extra pair of chromosomes for a total of three sets. When I think about this I instantly visualize the three-eyed fish on “The Simpson’s”.
    This procedure is taken from the 180 page FDA briefing packet. You can access the packet here:

    http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/VeterinaryMedicineAdvisoryCommittee/UCM224762.pdf

    Some other good tid bits in the packet…

    The “extensive?” studies have not includied any analysis of what happens when any human or animal eat this fish. As crazy as it sounds, feeding studies are not currently required. The analytical safety studies have been done on a small population of fish – well under 4,000. The safety studies are based only upon chemical analysis. No humans have actually eaten the fish!

    There have been observed defects such as deformed jaws, abnormal livers, ectopic mineralization – forming mineral deposits (like bones and teeth) in abnormal parts of the body, and increased glucose levels. Aqua Bounty Technologies (the company behind the fish) admits “a lack of information contributes to uncertainty regarding the rate of abnormalities in commercial grow-out facilities, given restrictions regarding the number of animals that may be raised under the investigational phase, there is no practical way ABT could have generated the appropriate data without producing – and destroying – commercial lots of fish.” In other words, all the abnormalities can be discounted due to the small sample size. Bill, is this the use or misuse of science? I suggest doing adequate lab testing before turning the US population into un-consenting test subjects.

    The potential for genetic modification of food goes both ways. There could be huge benefits. There could be a catastrophe. Adequate testing requires three generations of human feeding studies looking at life long health and reproductive impacts. Yes, this will take 90+ years. That is the commitment required to safely develop a mutated food product. We need to hold developers to adequate safety standards.

  5. Thanks to Professor Ralph for his completely uninformed response and erroneous projections. Wellcorps International products have nothing to do with GMO. As a worldwide health education and advocacy group, we are working diligently to stop this very dangerous technology.

    For those true professionals and scientists reading these comments, uou may wish to visit any of the European sites regarding full-disclosure clinical trials on GMO products. There you will find reams of PDF documents fully showing what happens to laboratory animals fed GMO products over five generations of offspring. In the third and subsequent generations, the mortality rate is alarming, and by the fifth generation, most offspring are completely sterile. Please note that absolutely NO RELIABLE HUMAN TRIALS of GMO products have ever been conducted.

    You may also want to visit the United States best resource for GMO information:

    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/

    There you will find free and easy access to many of the scientific studies I refer to in my original comment.

    Also for those followers of these comments, you may wish to watch the 4-part series, Scientists Under Attack at this easy-to-link-to site. Here you will be able to observe some of the world’s leading scientists recount their horrifying laboratory results with GMO products:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/bookmarks/tonybrich/1

    Time after time, you will find credible scientists all advising the immediate cessation of GMO technology.

    Thank you very much IFT for providing this forum where facts may come forward regarding dangerous technologies and accurate information!

    Tony B. Rich
    President
    Wellcorps International, LLC
    IdeasOne Incorporated

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