GE Salmon and wild brown trout breed creating hybrid fish

As GE salmon approaches FDA approval new questions arise on environmental impact Photo: luv2harp

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2013 ― A recent study by Canadian researchers reveals genetically engineered (GE) salmon can breed with wild trout, creating a hybrid fish that may pose a serious environmental threat. As AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage GE salmon approaches Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, many activists and consumers are pressing for more research.

AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon is engineered with an added gene from Pacific salmon to make it grow faster, and an added gene from an eel to make it grow throughout the year.  Currently AquAdvantage eggs are created on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and the fish are grown and farmed in a facility in Panama.

Working for over 17 years to obtain FDA approval, AquAdvantage creator, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, is currently in the final stages of the lengthy New Animal Drug Application (NADA) required by FDA. The second comment session for the Draft Environmental Assessment received over two million comments from concerned consumers and organizations. 

The Canadian study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, found that GE salmon can successfully breed with the closely related wild brown trout (Salmo trutta) to form a hybrid fish, as well as pass along the transgenes to hybrid offspring. Of the 363 hybrid offspring initially examined by researchers, nearly 40 percent carried modified genes. 

Further, the study found that the hybrid fish that carried transgenes grew faster than non-GE wild salmon, trout, and the hybrids that did not carry the transgenes. These transgene hybrids were also found to outcompete wild salmon and even GE salmon in simulated stream conditions.

The study sheds light on various problems with FDA’s Environmental Assessment and its analysis of the environmental risks associated with GE salmon. 

For one thing, the Assessment evaluates the environmental impact of GE Salmon grown in Canada and Panama, taking into consideration the specific facilities and environment surrounding the AquaAdvantage sites currently in use.

For example, the Assessment cites the high salinity of the waters surrounding the Prince Edward site and the high water temperatures, poor habitat, and the presence of a few hydroelectric plants surrounding the Panama site as important physical barriers to prevent the escape of GE salmon into wild habitats and ecosystems.

However, the Assessment does not address the environmental impact of a GE salmon hatchery in the U.S.  This is even more disquieting in the face of documents revealed as a part of a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request showing that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already received requests to import AquAdvantage Salmon eggs into the U.S. for commercial production.  

“Expanding production to facilities in the U.S. increases the possibility of escapes and crossbreeding, making this new study’s findings all the more alarming,” explained Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. 

Popular reception of AquAdvantage salmon has not been enthusiastic. In anticipation of the FDA’s final decision, Target Corporation has signed the GE-free Seafood Pledge sponsored by Friends of the Earth, joining over 60 other retailers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, pledging not to carry GE salmon. 

Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, where wild salmon stocks are threatened, recently introduced the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States Act (PEGASUS), which would prohibit “the shipment, sale, transportation, purchase, possession, or release in the wild of GE salmon unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complete a full environmental impact statement and find that it will result in no significant impact to the environment.” 

The FDA has been contacted for comment, which will be featured in Part Two if this article.

Follow Laura Sesana on Twitter at @lasesana and get regular column posts and updates on Facebook and Google+  


READ MORE: A World in Our Backyard by Laura Sesana

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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.


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