Impact on oceans and wild salmon
AquaBounty, the company behind the first Frankenfish, insists that their creation poses no threat to wild salmon populations. But research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.
AquaBounty insists that their fish will be raised in controlled pens and will never be released into the ocean, and that besides, their fish will be sterile. But every year, millions of farmed fish escape from fish farms into the wild. It’s true that initial introduction of AquaBounty’s fish is slated for Panama in highly controlled pens. But AquaBounty is planning to market the eggs, not the fish. Once the production of GE fish becomes commercialized, it will be impossible to control the whereabouts of every single individual and assure compliance with appropriate containment measures. Some degree of release may be inevitable.
As to sterile fish, at present, there is no guaranteed method to produce 100% sterility. In fact, the FDA’s most recent study found that five percent of the animals were in fact fertile. If large numbers of fish escape, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that some fertile fish might not only survive in the wild, but thrive.
Because AquaAdvantage fish grow many times faster, and become mature much more quickly, than wild salmon, they may have the ability to outcompete wild salmon for food, and to reproduce at a much faster rate.
By stipulating that AquaBounty’s fish will never by produced in the United States, the company was able to avoid having to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would analyze what would happen if things don’t go as planned. So long as the fish are only produced in countries with relatively lax environmental laws, they may be able to get away without further study.
But if the fish escape into the wild, they won’t stop swimming at national borders. This means that if they survive in the wild anywhere, they may soon be driving wild salmon into oblivion everywhere. The impact on marine and freshwater ecosystems, and on the economic wellbeing of fish-dependent coastal communities, could be devastating.
The FDA chose to review AquAdvantage as an animal drug, rather than a human food. In the FDA’s view, the refashioned DNA that is in every cell of the fish’s body is considered a drug, and that’s what the agency is regulating. If approved, the AquAdvantage salmon would not only be the first GE animal approved for human consumption, but also the first animal drug that’s theoretically capable of swimming off into the ocean and reproducing.