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AquAdvantage: Do We Really Want to Eat Genetically Modified Salmon? Part 2

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AquAdvantage salmon moving through FDA approval process

The fast growing AquAdvantage salmon is moving through the FDA approval process. But questions remain about the fish, created by AquaBounty Technologies, including its allergic potential.

When FDA food scientists Kathleen Jones and Kevin Greenlees presented AquaBounty's AquAdvantage salmon allergy studies at 2010 hearings, members on the committee considering the approval were appalled at the "science."

Diluted Out The Power of The Study

How can safety be determined for levels of allergens when a number that would be "unsafe" has not been determined, asked members of the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. It's as if "you selected a particular allergen in goat meat and another allergen that was in sheep meat and you compared the two and you found a significant difference but both of them were at irrelevantly low numbers," said Louisiana State University's David F. Senior, who chaired the committee. "Who cares?" Other members berated the low numbers of fish used in studies, the inclusion of irrelevant fish in studies which "diluted out the power of the study," and the generally bad science.

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And not only were the studies low powered, some having only six or seven fish in them, there were errors in studies! James D. McKean, with the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University, noted there were six "controls" in Table 15 and "in Table 16, there are 7. And I am still unclear as to where that extra sample came from?"

"Nothing reliable can be gained from this study," said Craig Altier, DVM, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University about other data presented, calling the work a "real mess." This "is an important thing to study and the experiment was a bust, why hasn't it been done again?"

AquAdvantage Salmon's Allergic Potential

And there were more questions about the AquAdvantage salmon's allergic potential. The briefing packet actually says the FDA could not determine if the AquAdvantage salmon would cause more allergies than other fish because excessive culling of "abnormal" salmon and other "technical flaws" in AquaBounty's study so "skewed" data as to "limit its interpretation that we cannot rely on its results"! Why are there so many abnormal fish? Why is approval considered in the midst of such technical flaws?

The briefing report also identified low glucose levels in the fish and a possible "increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1] in the AquAdvantage salmon compared to sponsor control fish." IGF-1 is linked to cancer and early puberty and its presence in rBGH-created milk was what made the product so controversial. Government scientists have said that IGF-1 is destroyed by digestion or pasteurization, but other scientists disagree.

And there are other concerns besides the AquAdvantage salmon's allergic potential and levels of its IGF-1. While supporters claim the fast growing fish would supply desirable omega oils, according to Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, "in terms of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, GE salmon fare worse than wild fish and slightly worse than farmed salmon."

Jurassic Park-Like Questions

Finally, there are Jurassic Park-like questions that persist with all genetically modified organisms. The FDA briefing packet discloses an unexpected and unwanted coding "rearrangement" in AquAdvantage salmon in which the original inserted genetic material has moved from "the far upstream promoter regions" to a "downstream location relative to the growth hormone coding region." No one knows why. Should the FDA approve such a risky fish? Should people eat it?

See Also: Do We Really Want to Eat Genetically Modified Salmon? Part 1

Editor's Note: The complete story of the AquAdvantage salmon is found in Martha Rosenberg's acclaimed expose, "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency" (Prometheus Books, 2012)

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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