Aquabounty, the biotech firm that spent 15 years and $60M creating GM Atlantic Salmon, is up a creek without a paddle. Better them than one of their fish, which could devastate natural populations if they ever happened to mix.
In an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill, the U.S. House of Representatives moved to ban the sale of GM Atlantic Salmon. It’s just a draft and hasn’t been voted on yet, but it signals a shift away from blind acceptance of GM foods.
Six Fish ~ Skewed Studies
Earlier this year expert testimony from Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen revealed Aquabounty’s negligence toward human and environmental health. Only SIX FISH were studied for health effects, and Hansen believes there is significant evidence they manipulated data to “prove” there is “no significant difference” between wild salmon and GM salmon. Haven’t we heard that before?
Potential Allergic Response Cited
This is HUGE, because it is an acknowledgment of one of the most basic flaws of genetically modified foods. Proteins that were not allergenic, when spliced into the genome of a different organism, can become so.
Indeed, a 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who were allergic to Brazil nuts were also allergic to soy beans that had been implanted with a Brazil nut protein. There is also some evidence that even proteins don’t usually cause allergies can become allergenic when they are moved to a new food. A 2005 Australian study found that mice who were fed peas containing a typically non-allergenic protein from kidney beans experienced allergic reactions.
So, what do we know about the allergen potential of GM salmon specifically? Not much, because the research is skeletal at best.
[A] number of consumer, health, and environmental groups say that neither AquaBounty Technologies nor the FDA has enough evidence to ensure the public that the fish—which wouldn’t have to be labeled as genetically engineered (GE) on supermarket shelves—is safe for people or the planet. Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen called the company’s food safety tests “woefully incomplete,” and the group pointed out that the FDA approval panel is mostly comprised of GE cheerleaders, with no fish ecologists or allergists. Why’s an allergist important? Because the company’s own tests suggest that the new salmon could be much more allergenic than regular salmon.
In order to understand the allergy tests, a bit of backstory on how AquAdvantage salmon are made is necessary. First, genetic engineers create a “diploid” fish, meaning like people, it has two sets of chromosomes. Then, to make the final market product, they add genetic material from other fish and breed a new salmon with three sets of chromosomes—a “triploid” female that can’t reproduce. AquaBounty researchers compared the allergenicity—or potential to cause an allergic reaction—of a control group of salmon to both the genetically engineered diploids and triploids. They found that the diploid salmon were 40 percent more allergenic than the control, while the triploid group was 19 percent more allergenic.
AquaBounty says that the triploids’ allergenicity level wasn’t statistically significant, and although the diploids’ level is significant, it doesn’t matter because only triploids will be sold. But Hansen of the Consumers Union finds a few problems with this argument. For starters, the test wasn’t double blind, meaning the researchers knew which fish were part of which test group. Second, the sample size of triploid fish was tiny—only six fish in all. Third, although AquaBounty is going to try to turn all its market-bound fish into triploid sterile females, the process isn’t perfect, and some 5 percent could end up as the more allergenic diploid.
Are Genetically Modified Foods More Allergenic? (emphasis mine)
Allergies are not merely an inconvenience. They create stress and inflammation in the immune system, which can result in many serious conditions.
About Those Mutant Diploid Fish
You know, the ones that will happen because the process isn’t, ahem, “perfect”?? They are NOT sterile, which means that if they escaped they could breed with wild salmon. Scary thought.
As I Told The Senator Today . . .
The House may be finalizing the 2012 Farm Bill early next week. If you don’t want to leave this victory to chance a call to your senator/representative supporting this ban wouldn’t hurt. The number for the Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121. Just ask for your Representative’s and Senators’ offices and they’ll patch you right through. Then when your hubs gets home try to work this phrase in, “as I told the Senator today . . . ” 🙂