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Published on January 14th, 2013 | by admin


AquAdvantage Salmon: A Heckuva Drug

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If you want to bury an unsavory news story, the afternoon before Christmas vacation is a good time to break it. The FDA chose December 21 to release its Environmental Assessment (EA) of the genetically modified “AquAdvantage“ salmon. This move quietly slid the fish closer to making history as the first GM animal approved for human consumption. The public was given 60 days to comment on a farmed salmon that American fish farmers wouldn’t be allowed to raise, but American consumers would nonetheless be allowed to eat.

If the announcement’s timing suggests FDA wants the application to flow smoothly, also consider that it has been 17 years since AquaBounty first applied for permission to sell its recombinant Atlantic salmon in the U.S. The company has paid a heavy price for trying to be first.

The slow and meandering path of the fish’s approval process owes more to agency machinations than any prevailing ideology. Four years is just enough time to settle into a new course before a new administration takes over and replaces your boss and, possibly, your agenda.

During the Bush II, FDA announced it would regulate AquAdvantage salmon as an animal drug rather than food, perhaps in hopes of expediting the process. More recently, according to a hypothesis espoused by Jon Entine in Slate, officials in President Obama’s inner circle conspired to delay the salmon’s approval for political gain.

Dartmouth sustainability science professor Anne Kapuscinski addressed the VMAC as well. Like the rest of the public, Kapuscinski had barely two weeks to review the hundreds of pages of documents that were released Friday before Labor Day.

Dr. Kapuscinski recently led a team of 53 scientists in writing a book about how to conduct scientifically credible risk assessment of genetically modified fish, and her lab has done ecological-risk research with GM fish. Kapuscinski was one of the most qualified people in the room, VMAC members included, to comment on the ecological risks posed by AquAdvantage salmon. Her oral comments were cut short due to time; she submitted a written transcript of those comments that I was not able to find on theonline VMAC materials hub.

A transcript of those her oral comments that Kapuscinski forwarded to me stated: “The Environmental Assessment does not adequately consider the growing body of research on genetic and ecological risks of transgenic fish.”

The EA, she wrote, lacked the basic quantitative information necessary to verify its conclusions. The statistical methods were outdated, and sample sizes too small or not reported.  Kapuscinski called for “a transparent Environmental Impact Statement that completes genetic and ecological risk assessment.”…


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One Response to AquAdvantage Salmon: A Heckuva Drug

  1. Charles Rader says:

    Two comments.

    (1) Nothing in this article is as shocking as the fact that it has taken 17 years to get this far along the course to approval or disapproval. A colleague and I once invented a medical diagnosis device, and she walked away from a secure job to form a company to manufacture and sell it. Obviously if she had any inkling that the FDA would make her wait 17 years to get any income, she’d never have been able to take that risk, and the device would not be out there helping doctors diagnose illness. By the way, a patent runs out after 20 years.

    (2) The gist of the argument in the article seems to be that the environmental threat of salmon escape is far too great to risk. But there’s absolutely no discussion of the many layered system of protection that Aqua-Bounty has tried to propose. There’s no mention of the fact that almost all the fish will be sterile females so that more thabn 19 out of twenty escapes will not matter. There’s no mention that Panama is thousands of miles from the salmon’s home territory in the North Atlantic, so that escapes from Panama will not matter. The article even raises the specter of an already-happened accident, without explaining that it didn’t release fish but killed them. Really, there are probably very few other aquaculture companies which have taken so many steps to prevent environmental damage.

    This was actually a pretty good article in spite of its deficiencies.

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