Data on safety of P.E.I. salmon not there, warns expert

Nigel Armstrong
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Michael Hansen, a doctoral expert in the area of biology and ecology working for the Consumers Union in the United States, a division of Consumer Reports.

Michael Hansen is warning that North Americans should not trust a recent assessment of genetically modified salmon as being safe.

Prince Edward Island is the birthplace of the world's first genetically modified food animal.

Hansen gave a public lecture in Charlottetown Monday about his concerns with this new food issue, co-hosted by Islanders Say No to Frankenfish and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

See video archive of entire lecture HERE.

Hansen is a doctoral expert in the area of biology and ecology working for the Consumers Union in the United States, a division of Consumer Reports.

U.S.-based Aqua Bounty biotechnology company has a division located near Fortune Bay in P.E.I. There it developed AquaAdvantage Atlantic salmon which has been engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout, an eel-like creature, to grow faster than other farmed salmon, says a press release from the action network.

The genetic modification makes the salmon produce growth hormone all year round instead of the usual three months per year.

Now AquaBounty wants to ship these modified P.E.I. eggs to a fish farm in Panama and import the resulting salmon into the U.S. consumer food system.

To do that it needs U.S. approval and it seems it has gotten it.

Laws in the U.S. treat the issue of the new genes as animal drugs under the jurisdiction of the Veterinary Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2010 those groups met on the issue of AquaBounty salmon and issued a report finalized in April this year.

Activists warn that FDA approval is near, but Hansen says the science presented during the process is deeply flawed.

"Of all the applications I have looked at for (genetically modified) plants and other things, this is the worst one I have ever seen, in terms of how little data there actually really is," he said in Charlottetown.

"The FDA has looked at the supposed food safety issues and the environmental issues but on both accounts they did such a severely flawed analysis based on virtually no data," said Hansen.

He cited the example of testing growth hormone levels in modified and not modified salmon. The data showed no growth hormone in either, he said.

"If you don't collect any data, then you can't come to any conclusions and you have to do the experiment over again using a methodology where you can detect data," said Hansen.

The hearings process revealed the new animal has increased risk for those prone to fish allergy, said Hansen.

As to the environment, the company testified about the confinement systems and the fact the fish have been modified to be sterile females.

"The FDA just assumes the fish can't get out and if they do get out, they can't survive," said Hansen. "Again, not based on any data, just on assumptions.

"There is now a text on how to do safety assessments for engineered organisms," said Hansen. "The FDA didn't consider any of that.

"As we learned from nuclear power or all these other industries, the state of the art is you have to do what is called a failure mode analysis, what happens if there is a failure. Rather than just assume nothing can happen, OK, what happens if everything goes wrong and these things get out.

"They didn't even consider it," said Hansen.

Now Hansen is hoping people will push the Canadian government to properly assess P.E.I.'s genetically modified salmon for environment risk on P.E.I.

He is hoping the FDA will call for a full environmental assessment of the AquaBounty proposal, including results from full assessment of the P.E.I. operation and the Panama operation.

Organizations: FDA, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Consumers Union Veterinary Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration.In 2010

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, United States, Charlottetown Panama Fortune Bay

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Recent comments

  • SilverFox
    May 15, 2013 - 20:46

    All of you who want to call those of us who are concerned about these Frankenfish paranoid ... go for it !!! Are you people who will take any drug when it comes along even after there has been some concern about it? Don't you remember the drugs introduced to pregnant women that resulted in badly deformed Children - that was because of NOT ENOUGH TESTING. If you don't care about your own body, no one else will and I for one am very concerned about putting anything into my body that has been genetically modified.

    • agree
      May 15, 2013 - 23:10

      Yes - and DDT was safe too!!

  • alfredd
    May 15, 2013 - 20:33

    I take this man at his word, I have more trust in him, than some greedy business man. There are already evidence of hormones added to everything we eat and drink, either deliberately or by accident, ---- children born in European countries with damaged genitals, attributable to hidden hormones in food and cosmetics. Better to be safe than sorry. Greed is everywhere, safety neglected all pover.

  • Jodi Koberinski
    May 15, 2013 - 16:05

    Mr. Kays is right on the money with this analysis, actually... the article tells us what we ought to rationally be concerned about: * no failure mode analysis: which means government has not even considered what could go wrong! They stopped at "penned" and "sterile" and looked no further... I wouldn't get out of an undergrad science project with such sloppy parameters as "no worries, we got it covered" * we are talking about fish engineered to excrete growth hormone all the time... hormones that we will end up consuming * we know nothing about how forced growtth impacts fish quality * concerns about allergens being created (GMO process make new proteins, nnew proteins can be allergens - and can also cause inflammation response when the body attacks these "never in the food system before" proteins as foreign invaders) * we know the science on which GMOs are based is fundamentally flawed, assumes a now dismissed 70 year old idea of "one gene one trait" * the data is woefully incomplete! Hansen says even LESS data than plant approvals, which recent work by Seralini et al reveals is woefully incomplete... * why are we not demanding long term studies? introducing GMOs into the environment is a one way deal: recalls are not possible. We have been very wrong with experimental technologies before- why the rush to commercialize?

    • How?
      May 15, 2013 - 17:21

      How do we know that "we know the science on which GMOs are based is fundamentally flawed"? Because you say so? What are the dangers of this fish? You don't know of any. Only scare tactics because the purists can't accept that food is changing. GMO production is based on far more than a 70 year old idea but you know that. Don't let facts get in the way of a good terror job on the consumer.

    • unfortunately
      May 15, 2013 - 23:08

      It's all about the money, like the oilsands in AB - let's just get as much as we can as quick as we can and to hell with the environment, by the time anything goes wrong we'll be long gone.........

  • Suckers
    May 15, 2013 - 15:02

    Run for you lives all you chicken littles. I never did think you had any credibility Mr. Kays but this seals the deal. What a hysterical reaction to a non-issue.

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    May 15, 2013 - 13:23

    There may be hope for journalism yet. Thank you Nigel for reporting on this important ground breaking, potentially world catastrophic news regarding the infamous FRANKENFISH SALMON. Our federal government is failing us on this front. You would think that CFIA or Fisheries and Oceans would be mandated to oversee this as it could potentially lead to a world catastrophe. Guess what department they handed it to ... Environment Canada and it fell to them because no one else wanted to deal with this. Fisheries and Oceans were originally tasked to come up with policy but never got around to it for 5 or 6 years so it got passed down to the final safety net, Environment Canada, and you know their track record for keeping our environment clean from carcinogens and harmful pollutants. There is an expert named Devlin in Fisheries and Oceans but our government will not even let him talk on the subject. When our best experts are not being talked to about this subject it raises alarm bells as to whether or not this is already a done deal. I urge everyone reading this story to contact their member of parliament and voice your concerns. The Americans do not get it so it is up to us to stop this potential catastrophe. Our provincial and federal gov is more concerned with selling products globally to other countries, than taking care of or protecting its own citizens.

    • Bob Handiman
      May 15, 2013 - 15:17

      Bill Kays, try putting your paranoia aside for one moment and tells us in rational terms just what are you scared about with these salmon. Obviously you are the smartest man on the block and we would love to hear what you have to say.

    • Joyce Ramer
      May 15, 2013 - 19:28

      I agree with Bill Kays, this Frankenfish Salmon "factory" is right in the Fortune River leading to Fortune Bay, Lobster Fisheries, Trout Fishing, and Beaches.....what in the name of God are they thinking about? Is Environment Canada lacking in scientific equipment to do tests regarding "what if they escape" or is it just lack of brains to think about doing it because of their lack of concern for the environment and Islanders....and, of course, everyone else who might end up eating this awful sounding creature??? YUK!

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      May 17, 2013 - 11:43

      Bob Handiman, or whoever you are, I'm not a bit paranoid. You do not need to be the smartest man on the block to realize that government is failing us at every turn, including this one. Persecutory delusion is not a part of my make up either. It is not paranoia to think that government is untrustworthy. It is not paranoia to see and recognize conspiratorial FACTS not theories. It is not paranoia to recognize that government has and is failing to protect us from genetically modified foods and organisms, environmental pollutants, carcinogens, etc., etc. Our government doesn't do anything well except line their own pockets and take care of their corporate sponsors and lobbyists.

    • ruthanne
      July 14, 2013 - 22:37

      This is right up there with GMO's that the US gov ruled, no law suits can be made against allowing FRANKENFISH...