The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
What Will Happen When Genetically Engineered Salmon Escape Into the Wild?
By Brettny Hardy
In late 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the greenlight to AquaBounty, Inc., a company poised to create, produce and market an entirely new type of salmon. By combining the genes from three different types of fish, AquaBounty has made a salmon that grows unnaturally fast, reaching adult size twice as fast as its wild relative.
Never before has a country allowed any type of genetically engineered animal to be sold as food. The U.S. is stepping into new terrain, opening Pandora's box. But are we ready for the consequences?
In order to answer that question, we must first look back on how we as a nation arrived at this point. Historically, the U.S. has enjoyed a rich bounty of seafood from the ocean. When I lived in Alaska, I always loved the late summer months when wild salmon would fill the rivers, making their way to spawning grounds. Fresh, wild salmon filets were delicious and abundant. And they still are.
Unfortunately, outside of Alaska, our poor management of an enormous fishing industry and important habitat has depleted fish stocks all along our coasts. Salmon species, in particular, are sensitive to environmental changes. The development and industrialization of our coast has polluted and dammed the rivers they depend on to breed. Although salmon used to be abundant on both the east and west coasts, large, healthy populations of salmon now exist mostly in Alaska.
Instead of fixing the environmental problems we have created or investing in the protection and recovery of our existing wild salmon resources, some have decided to create a new, genetically engineered fish that brings a host of its own problems and further undermines the sustainability of our food supply.
The genetically engineered salmon that the FDA approved will undertake a journey that stretches halfway around the globe in order to arrive at your dinner table. AquaBounty plans to produce the salmon eggs in a lab on Prince Edward Island in Canada, fly them to Panama to be raised, slaughtered and filleted and then bring them back to the U.S. so they can be sold to your family. How many tons of greenhouse gases are emitted during that 5,000-mile trip?
That's a far cry from the farm-to-table experience of eating seafood caught and sold by your local fisherman. Even worse, the FDA has so far refused to require food labels, so you won't even know if the fish you're eating is genetically engineered.
The waste and secrecy inherent in this process is bad enough, but the environmental consequences of this decision are potentially enormous. The FDA has failed to fully examine the risks this new species of salmon may present to wild salmon—and the environment—should it escape into the wild, which even some supporters of the FDA decision acknowledge is inevitable.
Once free, these fish will enter a world where wild salmon are already in a precarious state. In this fragile environment, genetically engineered fish would compete with their wild counterparts for food and space and could even potentially interbreed with them. They will also bring new diseases and cause changes to basic food webs and ecosystem processes that are difficult to anticipate.
Even more concerning is that the FDA does not have the expertise to properly understand the environmental devastation a release of genetically engineered fish could cause. The FDA exists to ensure that the food and drugs we consume are safe for humans, but does not typically evaluate the environmental impacts of putting new types of engineered foods into the ecosystem. The two agencies with actual biological expertise in fisheries and ocean ecosystems, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, were not given the chance to formally review FDA's approval.
Congress has not created a comprehensive statutory scheme to address the management of genetically engineered products. As a result, agencies are left trying to regulate genetically engineered products under a patchwork of ill-fitting statutes that do not comprehensively address associated environmental and other risks of these new creatures.
This new breed of fish does not herald progress. Instead, it highlights the ways we have devastated many of our wild fish populations and our continuing failure to recover this once-abundant natural food source.
We are opening Pandora's box and we are completely unprepared for the consequences.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.