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Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 292

GE salmon compared to normal one.

Thoughts: Genetically engineered salmon under FDA consideration.

Despite the risks of GMO fish, widespread consumer concern, and the dubious track record of the company bringing GMO salmon to market, the US government continues to fund research and development of GMO seafood through its Sea Grant programs. Research into numerous GMO species, including catfish, sea bass, tilapia, oysters and other fish and seafood is ongoing at many of the country’s thirty-two Sea Grant universities.

*AquaBounty is seeking FDA approval for a genetically engineered fish that reaches market weight in half the usual time.

Reporting from Washington — With a global population pressing against food supplies and vast areas of the ocean swept clean of fish, tiny AquaBounty Technologies Inc. of Waltham, Mass., says it can help feed the world.

The firm has developed genetically engineered salmon that reach market weight in half the usual time. What's more, it hopes to avoid the pollution, disease and other problems associated with saltwater fish farms by having its salmon raised in inland facilities.

The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve what would be the nation's first commercial genetically modified food animal.

"This is the threshold case. If it's approved, there will be others," said Eric Hallerman, head of the fisheries and wildlife sciences department at Virginia Tech University. "If it's not, it'll have a chilling effect for years."

Some in the fish farming industry are leery of the move toward engineered fish.

"No! It is not even up for discussion," Jorgen Christiansen, director of communications for Oslo-based Marine Harvest, one of the world's largest salmon producers, wrote in an e-mail.

Christiansen said his company worries "that consumers would be reluctant to buy genetically modified fish, regardless of good food quality and food safety."

Some critics call AquaBounty's salmon "Frankenfish." Others say the effort is pointless.

"I don't see the necessity of it," said Casson Trenor of Greenpeace USA — which opposes all genetically modified organisms, including plants. "We don't need to build a new fish."

The FDA has completed its review of key portions of AquaBounty's application, according to Chief Executive Ronald Stotish. Within weeks, the company expects the agency to convene an advisory committee of outside experts to weigh evidence, collect public testimony and issue a recommendation about the fish's fitness for human consumption.

The process could take months or more — which still sounds like progress to the company after its 14-year, $50-million investment.

Manipulating natural processes is a fact of life in most of the world's food supplies. Cattle, hogs, poultry and most grain and vegetable crops have been extensively altered through selective breeding and hybridization — including turkeys with so much white meat they can barely stand, drought- and disease-resistant wheat, and fruits and vegetables that resist bruising or spoiling.

2.Another (GMO) Fish Tale From Aqua Bounty

Earlier this month, genetically engineered (GMO) salmon produced by the US-company Aqua Bounty were reportedly condemned in Panama, due to fears that the super-salmon could escape and wreak havoc on natural fish populations. The company later claimed the report was inaccurate, but company documents acknowledge that its Panamanian operation was established in 2008 with the goal of “conducting commercial trials of the Company's AquAdvantage salmon.”

Whatever the situation in Panama, concerns about the impending approval of genetically engineered (GMO) salmon are nothing new (nor are concerns about farmed salmon in general: Greenpeace just announced that mega-retailer Target will stop selling all farmed salmon). An article last February [2009] noted that Aqua Bounty was "soon" expecting FDA approval for the GMO salmon, which grows more rapidly than its natural counterpart.

Aqua Bounty has been seeking FDA approval since 1996, and has repeatedly claimed approval was just around the corner. In 2003, company founder and then-CEO Elliot Entis told Business Week that he hoped for FDA approval within a year. In 2004, another report stated the company was looking for approval by the end of the year. Another Business Week story in 2006 noted the fish could be on the market "as early as 2008."

In mid-2008, the company said that the first salmon for a "commercial market test" were expected to reach harvest weight by late 2009. By mid-2009, the company projected the fish would be up to harvest weight "in early 2010.” The timeline for the market test, they said, was "proceeding on plan.”

Aqua Bounty has a history of over-promising and underperforming: projected sales of its shrimp feed additive were slated to be $370 million by 2010; in fact, total sales for all of the company's products peaked at less than $800,000 in 2005. By 2008, the shrimp feed additive was withdrawn from the market, and the company's mid-year 2009 report notes total sales revenue at zero following withdrawal of the product.

A look at its financial reports shows a company in deep waters. Aqua Bounty lost more than $8 million in 2006, and more than $6.5 million each year in 2007 and 2008, and projected a $5 million loss for 2009. Despite the losses, the company recently received a $2.9 million grant from the Canadian government's "Atlantic Innovation Fund" and $100,000 from the US National Science Foundation.

The company's latest financial statement notes, "At this level of cash burn, Aqua Bounty expects its funds to take the Company at least into 2011 before revenues need to cover costs…. Once AquAdvantage® [GMO] Salmon is approved for sale, the Company's focus will be to develop sales as quickly as practical."

In other words, the company’s future depends on FDA approval this year.

Of course, Aqua Bounty's future also requires that consumers continue to be kept in the dark about the super salmon, if it ever does get to market. Since people don't want to eat GMO salmon, their product can only survive in the marketplace if it is not labeled. Consumer groups have called for labeling, and food safety, environmental and wild salmon advocates have opposed approval (and called for strict regulation if approved) of the GMO salmon, but FDA is unwilling to require labels on GMO food, despite inherent risks in the genetic engineering process.

The techniques used to produce GMO crops or animals inherently create unpredictable side effects. Gene tinkerers literally shoot inserted genes into "target" organisms, and do not know where in the organisms' genome the inserted gene will land. Thus they cannot know what other genes may be affected, or how the inserted gene will respond in the new host. Several studies on genetic engineering intended for faster growing fish have found a bounty of side effects, including impacts on swimming ability, feeding rates, muscle structure, life span and more. One study found GMO salmon had changes in head and body shape, with enlarged abdomens and larger than normal intestines, among other unexpected changes.

One of the most troubling side-effects of gene tinkering is a potential increase in allergens or creation of new allergens. A New England Journal of Medicine article on GMO food noted that the potential for allergies created from GMO foods is "uncertain, unpredictable, and untestable.”

GMO fish are also likely to irreversibly alter natural marine environments, with unpredictable and possibly fatal impacts on natural fish species. One study demonstrated that an escape of relatively few GMO fish could wipe out local fish populations in just 40 generations. Escapes of fish from aquaculture facilities are so routine that Canada's draft policy stated that GMO fish "must be treated the same as fish released into the natural ecosystem."

Despite the risks of GMO fish, widespread consumer concern, and the dubious track record of the company bringing GMO salmon to market, the US government continues to fund research and development of GMO seafood through its Sea Grant programs. Research into numerous GMO species, including catfish, sea bass, tilapia, oysters and other fish and seafood is ongoing at many of the country’s thirty-two Sea Grant universities.

Source: Andrew Zajac, Tribune Washington Bureau, LA Times, August 14 2010

Quotes: Just when the caterpillar thought his life was over, he turned into a butterfly.

What I Ate Today:

Meal 1: A beet, carrot, celery and ginger juice.

Meal 2: 3 nectarines.

Meal 3: Avocado Sweet and Spicy Salad. Created with Avocado, lettuce, kale, baby spinach, garlic, ginger, spring onion, green chilli, dates, coriander (cilantro), coriander seeds, cucumber, lime, olive oil!

Meal 4: Raw Mint Chocolate Brownie. Created with almonds, cashews, raw cacao powder dates, mint, avocados, vanilla and agave syrup!

Meal 5: Raw Zucchini Pasta & Sauce! Zucchini, tomatoes, basil, oregano, spring onion, Himalayan salt!

Recipe: Recipes for Avocado Sweet and Spicy Salad, Raw Chocolate Brownies and Raw Zucchini Pasta & Sauce is available on The Earth Diet website

Exercise: A one hour workout at Big Al's Family Fitness - I walked lots of stairs, worked abs, did squats and jumps :) And then stretching in the sauna :) I also did a lot of bike riding today to and from places :)

73 days to go!!!

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