© Consumers Union, via Flickr
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.
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.