GM-free Scotland (Archive)

News | November '10 | Freaky fish

The US Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has listed “10 Freakiest Things About Frankenfish”. Its 'Things' are based largely on the US Food and Drug Agency's (FDA) own advisory committee meeting materials.

Many of the Freaky Things arise from the FDA's muddled regulation which has no rules specific to GM animals and tries to deal with them as drugs (see GM SALMON - MEASURABLY DIFFERENT - News, November 2010).

Also Freaky is that the FDA depended entirely on the biotech company's (AquaBounty) own data. Several major flaws in the science stand out:

The GM salmon have 40% more 'insulin-like-growth-factor' (IGF-1). This hormone has been linked to prostate, breast and colon cancers in humans. While the FDA considers the increased level too small to present a risk, and therefore 'unimportant', the bigger picture is 'freakier'. Plans are already afoot to follow up GM salmon, with super-fast-growing tilapia, trout and potentially any other farmed fish or animal, each with its own extra little bit of IGF-1. The hormone is also elevated in milk from cows injected with Monsanto's bovine growth hormone from GM microbes. Public intake of all these 'unimportant' extra little bits of growth hormone will be cumulative. As one Guardian journalist asked: “when, exactly, are we supposed to start worrying?”

The allergenic potency of the GM salmon was found to be increased by 19%. While the AquaBounty GM fish destined for fish farms are pressure-shock treated to give them an extra set of chromosomes and render them infertile, the process is leaky. About 5% of the fry have a normal chromosome complement, and are not only fertile, but have an allergenic potency increased by 40%.

Which brings us to the environmental threats of Frankenfish. Fish farms have a dire record of escapes. Fast-growing fish may well have low survival fitness, but also may decimate wild fish in the short-term by out-competing them for finite resources. The knock-on effect is the destruction of salmon-dependent ecosystems. Moreover, even a few leaked fertile individuals could be more damaging to wild stocks than infertile escapees: in this case, interbreeding could compound the problem by creating a wild hybrid population of fast-growing GM fish with increased allergenicity.

A less obvious, but potentially highly damaging, aspect of GM salmon is the health effects from alterations to the nature of our intestinal flora (see YET MORE HEALTH RISKS FROM GM FOOD – News, August 2010). Gut bacteria which incorporated a hormone-producing gene could have very unfortunate consequences.

AquaBounty is hoping its transgenic fish will encourage fish-farming as a new growth industry in the USA. At the same time as supporting this move, the US administration is allowing pollution of the wild salmon's spawning grounds by heavy industry. As one environmental author commented on the policy:

“More transgenic fish, less wild fish. You have to scratch your head at the government that's planning that kind of seafood menu for its citizens. Instead of endorsing a risky experiment in genetic salmon modification wouldn't it be better if our leaders protected wild salmon habitat? In the end we'd have just as much fish on our plates and a safer environment to boot.”

'Freaky Thing' No. 11, not mentioned by the OCA is the current Aquabounty-FDA scheme for bringing the GM salmon to US shops. The eggs will be produced in Prince Edward Island in Canada, and these will be shipped to Panama for growing and processing, before the final produce is imported into the US for sale. This obviously involves cross-border movements of Living Modified Organisms which come under the rules of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety. This opens up an international legal can of worms: Canada is not party to the Biosafety Protocol, but Panama is. America, it seems, is planning to feed its citizens GM fish by shifting the environmental and legal problems onto its neighbours.


Make sure any friends or relatives you have in the USA know what's about to be sprung on them, probably unlabelled. They might like to check out 'Grassroots Netroots Alliance' campaign to 'Stop Frankenfish'.