Saturday, December 22, 2012

Frankenfish (GMO Salmo Salar)

Atlantic Salmon School

On 12/21/12 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated that Genetically Modified Atlantic Salmon are fit for consumption for humans. The new breed has been nicknamed Frankenfish. Coming to a fish market in your town soon?

A company called Aqua Advantage has altered the genetic make up of the Salmon by adding a growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook Salmon which allows the genetically altered Atlantic Salmon to produce a growth hormone all year long. Natural Atlantic Salmon only produce the growth hormone for part a few months out of the year. This change would allow the salmon to grow at the rate of 200% or more! The engineers at Aqua Advantage have also given the GMO Salmon a hormone that acts as an "ON" switch for the Chinook hormone to stay active at all times. This second hormone is from and ocean eel-like fish called the Ocean Pout which is predatory eating almost anything that passes it's way and growing well over 6 feet in length.

Genetically engineered animals are not clones, which the FDA has already said are safe to eat. Clones are copies of an animal. In GE animals, the DNA has been modified to produce a desirable traits.  These new GE Salmon are said to genetically modified have the same flavor, texture, color and odor as the native fish.

The eel-like Ocean Pout, nothing like a Salmon!

The Ocean Pout (Macrozoarces Americanus) is a bottom dwelling eel-like fish that  lives in the soft oozy mud with high organic content that floors certain of the deeper depressions in Massachusetts Bay and surrounding areas. The Pout has no characteristics similar to Salmon except that it is considered a fish, but closer to an eel...which has a voracious appetite.

Pacific Salmon
The Atlantic and Pacific Salmon are both from the same genetic family, Salmonidae. Both follow anadromous spawning cycles where they live and grow in salt water and return to their streams of birth to spawn in fresh water. The exception is the Great Lakes region where they live in fresh water their whole lives. The Pacific Salmon, which includes the Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye have a typical life cycle of  2-5 years. They are from the genus Oncorhynchus and spawn only once then die in the rivers. The Atlantic Salmon are from the genus Salmo which are capable of spawning multiple times in their lifetime living several years longer than their Pacific cousins.

Atlantic Salmon
In their native streams, Atlantic Salmon are considered a prized recreational fish, pursued by anglers worldwide during its annual runs. At one time, the species supported an important commercial fishery, the wild Atlantic Salmon fishery is virtually dead; after extensive habitat damage and overfishing, over 95% of all commercial Atlantic Salmon are farm raised. Their life cycle is similar to the Steelhead and they are valiant fighters when hooked. During spawning their marking are often similar to large brown trout.

A large male Atlantic Salmon in Spawning colors.
In Scotland and Norway these fish have always been held in the highest regard. The United States several populations of the Atlantic Salmon has been in a state of serious decline for several years. Some areas have the Atlantics protected by the Endangered Species Act. Canada has suffered population declines as well and have areas where the species is protected as well. Since 1990 the worldwide population has been halved, mostly due to over commercial fishing and pollution.

Agua Advantage, once known as Aquabounty, stands by it's claims that the Frankenfish is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon, which is a key concern for environmental activists. In the past, there have been some Atlantic salmon that have escaped from cages at sea. In the Atlantic Ocean, this has resulted in some breeding with native populations, it has been claimed that most surviving offspring were from the domesticated Atlantics, not hybrids. Some environmental activists claim that toying with wildlife by any means of genetic engineering can only end badly, and should any of the GMO salmon somehow escape out of its designated areas and breed in wild habitats, the natural salmon populations could become extinct. Birds have been know to carry fish eggs on their feet and fish can jump or get through nets....

A pod of Atlantics heading upriver to spawn.
Genetic engineered food is already widely used, but the government until now has not considered allowing the consumption of modified animals. The potential financial profits could be HUGE, which to many is the determining factor why this is being done. Many people are not comfortable about genetically altering food or animals. When the salmon are approved for sale, the consumer may not even know they are eating them (The GMO Salmon). According to FDA guidelines, the fish would not be labeled as genetically modified if the agency decides it has the same material makeup as conventional salmon.  There is already much debate about food labeling especially in concerned to GMO food, which many people would not buy if they knew it was a GMO. Other GMO foods have been found to cause allergic reactions, which may also be an issue with GMO modified animals as a food source. These fish grow big because they have a growth hormone and a hunger hormone, what happens when these are ingested by our children? Starting to sound a little scary yet?

Some tasty looking Atlantic Salmon fillets
There is plenty of opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations. If these Salmon are the first animals then what is next? Will areas such as Bristol Bay loose protection due to the fish being able to be farmed and "fit" for consumption? The United States is the only country that has not at this time order food companies to label GMO foods as such with many consumers up in arms about not being told what they are really buying. There have been several attempts to force this into law, but where this is big money to be made (MONSANTO) little has been done. Approximately 25% of Americans understand that most junk foods and animal products contain GMO ingredients.

This is a list of countries (and U.S. counties) that have banned genetically modified crops in one way or another:

In the United States:  Only the California counties of Mendocino, Trinity and Marin have successfully banned GM crops.  Voters in other Calilfornia counties have tried to pass similar measures but failed.
In Australia:  Several Australian states had bans on GM crops but most of them have since lifted them.  Only South Australia still has a ban on GM crops, though Tasmania has a moratorium on them until November of 2014.
In Japan:  The Japanese people are staunchly opposed to genetically modified crops and no GM seeds are planted in the country.  However, large quantities of canola are imported from Canada (which is one of the world's largest producers of GM canola) and there is now GM canola growing wild around Japanese ports and roads to major food oil companies.  Genetically modified canola such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola have been found growing around 5 of the 6 ports that were tested for GM contamination.
In New Zealand:  No GM foods are grown in the country.
In Germany:  There is a ban on the cultivation or sale of GMO maize.
In Ireland:  All GM crops were banned for cultivation in 2009, and there is a voluntary labeling system for foods containing GM foods to be identified as such.
In Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg: There are bans on the cultivation and sale of GMOs.
In France:  Monsanto's MON810 GM corn had been approved but its cultivation was forbidden in 2008.  There is widespread public mistrust of GMOsthat has been successful in keeping GM crops out of the country.
In Madeira: This small autonomous Portugese island requested a country-wide ban on genetically modified crops last year and was permitted to do so by the EU.
In Switzerland:  The country banned all GM crops, animals, and plants on its fields and farms in a public referendum in 2005, but the initial ban was for only five years.  The ban has since been extended through 2013.
In India:  The government placed a last-minute ban on GM eggplant just before it was scheduled to begin being planted in 2010.  However, farmers were widely encouraged to plant Monsanto's GM cotton and it has led to devastating results.

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