The thought of having fish sticks for dinner made from genetically engineered fish is rather unappetizing - so you are not likely to ever see it announced on today’s menu at your local bistro. Yet US company AquaBounty is currently developing GE salmon, with the intention to produce the eggs in Canada, then rear the salmon in Panama and then sell the final product to US consumers.
This is cause for concern - if that was to happen, the door would be open to widespread commercialisation of GE fish elsewhere in the world. As well as the lack of knowledge about the human health impacts of eating genetically engineered salmon, there are animal welfare concerns related to intensive fish farming and the environmental effects caused by fish escaping from aquaculture facilities. AquaBounty claims to only produce female salmon, which cannot reproduce, but sterilization of GE fish will never be 100 per cent effective in a commercial situation, and will not prevent all crossbreeding between GE fish and wild fish.
It is unlikely that the mouths of the US consumers, who are AquaBounty’s main targets, will water from the thought of eating genetically engineered salmon or feel encouraged to serve it to their children for dinner. In Europe the majority of people - 60% - are against the development of GE food.
There is also widespread opposition to the farming of GE fish in open-pen aquaculture facilities, even if it is the most profitable method of rearing farmed fish but often at a high ecological cost. Scientific bodies and international organizations have expressed deep concerns about the hazards of commercialization of GE fish. Even if AquaBounty acknowledges these concerns by promising that GE salmon will be kept in secure, land-based facilities, there is little guarantee that AquaBounty will be able to enforce an effective confinement in the long run.
Land-based confinement is nothing more than a myth used by industry to gain approval for its production of GE fish. Fish released into the environment will happen one way or another, for instance through eggs accidentally being released during transportation, through theft, or through birds feeding in the land-based facilities that are open to the sky and then 'released' in rivers or seas. Once escaped, GM fish will not respect national boundaries. This is why GE fish must be considered as global releases by the international community and more precisely under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
AquaBounty claims to maintain the GE salmon in a confined environment from egg to grown fish but since the company is only in the business of producing and selling GE salmon eggs; how will AquaBounty ensure compliance of land-based secured and strict confinement after? However diligent the authorities might be in Panama or elsewhere, there will always be cracks in the regulatory controls. Even one single accidental release of GE fish in open waters could spark dire ecological disaster.
The company is currently suggesting a business plan, which involves three countries, Canada, Panama and the US. Once authorized, there is nothing preventing AquaBounty to find other countries or locations for their business. The genie will be out of the bottle! Therefore, Greenpeace demands that all genetic engineering of fish for commercial purposes should be prohibited.
Furthermore, the broader environmental impact of the production method, which requires substantial transport across two continents, including how much CO2 emissions are going to be linked to a single portion of environmentally polluting genetically engineered salmon, is not addressed by AquaBounty.
Also, as the water at the land-based facilities will have to be cooled in view of the tropical climate in Panama, it will require lots of energy to run such facilities. These GE salmon will also require feeding with other fish probably found locally. Will GE salmon in Panama compete with the local population for supply of fish? What will be the impacts on food security for Panama?
What is clear to us here at Greenpeace is that a production process, such as the one AquaBounty is planning, is too dangerous for the environment and governments must have the courage to say NO to AquaBounty’s gamble with the integrity of our oceans and rivers ecosystems.
We should also step back and realise that GE fish, like any other GE food, is presented as a technological fix to world food supply. Hunger is a political travesty, not a technical problem. Over a billion people on our earth go hungry right now. They need to be able to produce food and feed themselves without relying on multinational corporations providing them with genetically engineered solutions. The only real solution to the increasing demand for decreasing fish supplies is reforming the fishing and aquaculture industries and implementing a global network of marine reserves: both of which can restore fish populations and our oceans back to health. Fishing operations and communities alike in the developing world must be ensured access to fish for survival.
To learn more about GE salmon:
Canadian Biotech Action Network
The US Center for Food Safety