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Council present as GE Salmon company seeks FDA approval

When AquaBounty set up a salmon hatchery in Bay Fortune, PEI, the local Council of Canadians chapter knew they had to get involved in the opposition. The risks to the community and the ecosystem, as well as human health, are far too great to not speak up. And with Vice-Chair of the Council’s Board of Directors, Leo Broderick, a part of this movement, he able was eager to represent the Council at the FDA’s public hearings on the possible approval of GE salmon in the US, back in September. Here is his account.

Brief Report from Leo Broderick on Public Hearings on Genetically Engineered Atlantic Salmon in Maryland, USA

On September 19-21, 2010, I had the opportunity as vice-chair of the Council of Canadians to attend the US Food and Drug Administration’s public hearings on genetically engineered salmon in Maryland, USA. The FDA had already stated earlier in the month that the GE salmon is safe for human consumption. The hearings were in front of the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC), where specialists from the FDA and AquaBounty (owners of the GE Salmon) argued for approval of the GE salmon for human consumption, and where the public was allowed as well to address the committee. (I had the opportunity to speak to the hearings on behalf of the Council of Canadians.) If approved, the GE salmon will be considered a drug, and will be the first GE animal approved for the dinner plate.

The VMAC’s responsibility was to listen and question, and then to make a recommendation for approval or not. It was pointed out at the very beginning of the hearings that the FDA was not bound to adopt the VMAC’s decision.

The hearings produced some surprises!

But first a little background on the issue. The US-Company AquaBounty has been seeking FDA approval of its GE Salmon since 1996. AquaBounty’s GE salmon hatchery is located in Fortune, Prince Edward Island. The company claims its “AquAdvantage” salmon will grow to market-size twice as fast as other farmed salmon. That’s because the Atlantic salmon is engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon, and genetic material from ocean pout – an eel like fish. We here in PEI have raised public safety concerns over this issue for years.

AquaBounty’s present plan, as presented to the FDA, is to produce the GE salmon eggs here in PEI and then have them exported to Panama where the GE salmon will be grown and then sold to the US market.

AquaBounty has claimed, repeatedly, approval is just around the corner.

To date it has never happened. But right now it could happen. A look at the Company’s financial situation suggests it’s now or never for the company, and in part explains why the FDA could give approval.

In terms of their financial situation, AquaBounty lost more than $8million in 2006, more than $6.7 million each year in 2007 and 2008, and probably the same in 2009. In late 2009, the Canadian government gave AquaBounty $2.9 million as a grant. The company’s future depends on FDA giving approval this year or very soon.

And as critics of the FDA, like Jeffrey Smith, have often been suggested, the FDA is strongly influenced in its decision by corporate profits and politics, and by its strong support of biotechnology.

Back to the surprises! Despite the apparent biases built into the FDA hearings in favour of approval of the GE salmon, some members of the VMAC actually raised concerns about AquaBounty’s data. And the public presentations were exceptional in demonstrating clearly the inadequacy of AquaBounty’s science. The hazards to human and environmental health of GE salmon were well articulated and researched. It was pointed out that the process of genetic engineering itself could possibly result in increased allergenicity, and AquaBounty’s own data pointed to this potential in their GE salmon.

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union US, said at the hearings, “The FDA is relying on woefully inadequate data. There is sloppy science, small sample sizes, and questionable practices.” Check out Dr. Hansen’s presentation – http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/CU-comments-GE-salmon-0910.pdf

I would say based on the hearings and concluding comments from the VMAC, the decision to give final approval to the GE salmon is stalled, and gives us a small window of opportunity to pursue our work to arouse public opinion against our governments giving approval to GE salmon and other GE animals for human consumption. The push to develop and approve genetically engineered animals for human consumption is backed by the corporate sector, many universities, and our governments. To stop this madness, it is going to take a great deal of work.

Here in Canada AquaBounty is preparing to ask for approval of its GE salmon. In fact, there is a race with the GE pig called “Enviropig” to become the first genetically engineered animal in our food system. The University of Guelph has already asked Health Canada to approve “Enviropig” for eating. The “Enviropig” is engineered by splicing mouse and bacteria genes. Environment Canada has already approved reproduction of these GE pigs. Check out CBAN’s email letter campaign to our federal health minister – http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/Enviropig/Write-the-Minister-of-Health-Stop-Enviropig

To conclude, it was a wonderful experience to attend the hearings in Maryland and to meet many of our US friends who believe in and are working for the same things we are – social and environmental justice.

Leo Broderick

To read more on AquaBounty and the Council’s interventions, click here: http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=%22aquabounty%22

Here are a few websites of the many organizations working on this and related issues, for more information:

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network: http://www.cban.ca/

National Farmers Union: http://www.nfu.ca/

Beyond Factory Farming: http://beyondfactoryfarming.org/