Genetically Engineered Fish, Coming Soon?

Group Urges RP to Support Demands for GE-Free Seas

Press release - March 29, 2001
The environmental group Greenpeace today urged the Philippine government to join international efforts to pressure the United States government to stop a pending application before its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercially produce and sell genetically engineered (GE) fish, stressing that once released into the open, the mutant fish variety could cause irreversible impacts on the marine environment.

The environmental group Greenpeace today urged the Philippine government to join international efforts to pressure the United States government to stop a pending application before its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercially produce and sell genetically engineered (GE) fish, stressing that once released into the open, the mutant fish variety could cause irreversible impacts on the marine environment.

In a letter to the Secretaries of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the group mentioned that the applicant company A/F Protein, thorough its Canadian sister company AquaBounty farm has developed a genetically engineered salmon with a foreign growth hormone gene, which makes them grow 2 to 3 times quicker than normal salmon.[i] Many more GE fish varieties are presently being developed and some of them are close to commercialization.

Greenpeace issued the appeal after its activists sealed off a research facility containing genetically engineered salmon, owned by A/F Protein, in Prince Edward Island, Canada last Tuesday. The international environmental organization demanded a global rejection of the world's first application to commercially produce GE fish, and a global ban on all releases of genetically engineered organisms into the oceans.

GE fish have the potential to cause irreversible damage to wild fish stocks and to the wider marine environment. Leading marine biologists have expressed grave reservations and warned that even a small number of GE fish released into the wild can have potentially devastating effects. Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana, the United States, estimate that 60 fertile GE fish introduced into a natural population of 60,000 could annihilate the natural stock in 20-30 years.[ii]

"Genetically manipulated fish represent another arrogant human-induced aberration whose consequences on the environment and on human health could prove disastrous in the future. The very idea itself of GE fish swims against the tide of reason. They are an iconic example of the genetic engineering experiment that is being conducted with our environment and food supply," said Beau Baconguis, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

A/F Protein's application to commercialise GE salmon for the aquaculture industry worldwide is currently being considered by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under their regulation on 'animal drugs', and a ruling is expected anytime this year. The permit would set a precedent for approvals of other types of GE fish that are already being developed, including trout, catfish, lobster, carp and striped bass. The company A/F Protein claims that it already has orders for 15 million GE fish eggs for delivery as soon as the FDA gives the go-ahead.

"The history of fish farming clearly demonstrates that once released into ocean ponds, fish will escape. And since fish do not obey national boundaries, any release of GE fish into the wild becomes an issue of international concern. The US FDA should not be allowed to make a decision about an international environmental issue that is bound to affect the world's oceans " said Von Hernandez, Campaign Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Escapes from fish farms are frequent and virtually impossible to prevent. In the past ten years over half a million fish escaped from just a handful of facilities in the US and Canada.[iii] To date, there are no published studies on the health risks of engineered fish, nor are there specific regulations governing the release of GE fish into the wild.

"Genetic engineering of food is an inherently risky process. The long-term effects of releasing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment and into people's diets remain unknown for the most part. The Philippine government must take responsible action to ensure that our food supply is free from GMO contamination," added Baconguis.

Earlier, Greenpeace announced the results of tests commissioned by the group on 30 consumer food products bought from a Metro Manila supermarket. Eleven products proved positive for GMO contamination. These products include the following: Bonus Vienna franks, Rica Protina hotdogs, Campo Carne Moby hotdogs, Purefoods Beefy hotdogs, Quality Foods Budget franks, crab Cake distributed by Foodmart Enterprises, Yung Ho soya drink, Doritos Smokey Red Barbecue, Nestle Nesvita Natural Cereal Drink, Knorr Cream of Corn soup and Isomil Soy Infant Formula.

Notes: [i] The Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean (NASCO) has expressed concerns about possibly irreversible effects of transgenic fish in the oceans, and called upon its members, including the United States, to prevent any of such releases. It has also established guidelines for action on transgenic salmon that have been completely ignored by the US FDA so far. [ii] The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (an organisation dedicated to the scientific study of fishes, amphibians and reptiles) and the Royal Society of Canada recently recommended a moratorium on rearing genetically engineered fish in aquatic facilities. [iii] December 2000, 100,000 farm-bred fish escaped from a facility in Maine in the US. Approximately 300,000 fish escaped from a single Washington State fish farm in the summer of 1999. Between 1991 and 1999 over 280,000 fish escaped from fish farms in British Columbia.