June 16, 2013
Genetically modified salmon are more dangerous than anyone had realized. It’s now proven beyond doubt that they can interbreed with not only wild salmon, but also trout. Worse, the result is offspring that grow even faster than their parents and can outcompete them by a huge amount.
Trout, by The Wild Center
by Heidi Stevenson
Genetically modified salmon, which the FDA is on the verge of approving, pose an unprecedented risk. As demonstrated by a new study, not only are these supposedly sterile fish capable of breeding, they can produce offspring with trout. The study’s authors wrote:
Through experimental crosses, we demonstrate transmission of a growth hormone transgene via hybridization between a candidate for commercial aquaculture production, GM Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and closely related wild brown trout (Salmo trutta). Transgenic hybrids were viable and grew more rapidly than transgenic salmon and other non-transgenic crosses in hatchery-like conditions. In stream mesocosms designed to more closely emulate natural conditions, transgenic hybrids appeared to express competitive dominance and suppressed the growth of transgenic and non-transgenic (wild-type) salmon by 82 and 54 per cent, respectively.
Not only are these supposedly sterile frankenfish capable of breeding, but they can breed with trout to produce offspring that grow even faster than the GM salmon and out-compete natural salmon by an immense margin!
AquaBounty, the company that hopes to sell GM salmon, has claimed that these fish are no risk to the environment. They’ve said that the fish are sterile. That’s obviously untrue, and has been known since the early days of their development. Even if most of these frankenfish were sterile, a small percentage would still add up to millions of viable fish.
Their claim that there’s no risk of escaping into the wild becaue they keep them contained in locations far from oceans is also specious. First, there’s the fact that rivers lead to oceans. Second, they hope to sell these fish, or possibly the roe, to others—and there aren’t even any proposed regulations to limit where they can go. Thus, there is virtually nothing standing in the way of the release of GM salmon into the wild, wth the resultant devastation of the ecological system.
The author of the study, Krista B. Oke, tried to soften her results by saying:
I think currently what AquaBounty is proposing to do, it seems that their safeguards will be sufficient. You know, adequately prevent these kinds of risks. Where I think our work is more important would be if those regulations were weakened, which again I don’t know if anyone’s proposing to do right now, and AquaBounty certainly isn’t proposing to do, at the moment.
Perhaps that was necessary to get her study published—but what regulations is she referring to? Claims by AquaBounty do not equate with regulations!
In point of fact, as reported in the journal Nature:
Following FDA approval, AquaBounty hopes to sell its salmon eggs to farmers and expand to markets in Argentina, Canada, Chile and China. To sell AquAdvantage fish in the United States, each farm would require separate FDA approval, but because the food safety of the fish has already been vetted, the approval process would require only an environmental evaluation
AquaBounty is in a precarious financial position. Public outcry against their frankenfish has resulted in approval delays, which are threatening their ability to survive. If their frankenfish gains the FDA’s approval, the company will have no choice but to market the eggs to other countries. The potential US income from the fish is simply not enough to keep the company solvent.
Therefore, there can be little question that, if these genetically engineered salmon are approved, they can be expected to escape into the wild. When they do, they’ll interbreed wtih wild trout, creating a hybrid that will outcompete both the native trout and salmon. Ultimately, the result could be an ecological crash.
Wonderful things can be done with science—but it can also be used to produce horrors. Witness Fukushima and the atomic bomb. Witness the utter destruction of Iraq and the killing of civilians with drones. Witness the universal surveillance of virtually everyone by the United States. Witness the destruction of soil and food quality by Agribusiness. Witness the horrors of factory farming. Just because it can be done does not mean it should. AquaBounty’s Frankenfish is one of those things. Our life support, Gaia, simply cannot handle more devastation.
1. Hybridization between genetically modified Atlantic salmon and wild brown trout reveals novel ecological interactions; Proceedings of the Royal Society; Krista B. Oke, Peter A. H. Westley, Darek T. R. Moreau, and Ian A. Fleming; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1047