Last fall, we reported on an FDA advisory panel's refusal to recommend that the agency approve sale of genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon as food for people.
The FDA will decide this year whether to approve the tank-raised GM fish, which grow twice as fast as natural Atlantic salmon.
As many had hoped, the advisory panel rejected the data presented by the GM salmon's maker – biotech firm AquaBounty – as inadequate to determine the potential for harm … see “GM Salmon Postponed by FDA Panel.”
That panel's action was followed by further opposition from many quarters … see “GM Salmon Hit by Consumers Union, Congress”, which links to the compelling, science-based critique submitted by Consumers Union.
Sustainable farming programs targeted for more budget cuts
Last month, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee adopted a funding bill that if passed would make a second round of steep cuts to conservation, extension, research, renewable energy, and rural development programs.
And just like in fiscal year 2011, none of the cuts are directed at crop subsidies, the largest federal agricultural spending item.
Congress voted to continue a pattern that allowed ten percent of the nation's farms to collect 74 percent of all farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009 … more than $150 billion.
Still, the 2008 bill had some good things, too, such as a rural microenterprise program, support for beginning and disadvantaged farmers, grants for value-added agriculture, and soil-conservation incentives.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the 2011 budget (finalized this spring) cut funds from these bright spots.
As the subcommittee meets again to negotiate appropriations for 2012, in the midst of deficit fever, more cuts seem likely.
But it's not too late to influence where next year's cuts are made … ideally we'd cut wasteful subsidies for corn, soy, and other big commodities, instead of smart, sustainability-focused programs.
For information on how to help, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's page on the 2012 budget.
And yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban sale of GM salmon, as an amendment to the draft 2012 Farm Bill.
Congress revises the Farm Bill about every five years. The last one passed in 2008, and many in Congress want to pass a new one before the 2012 Presidential election.
The House may pass a full set of Farm Bill revisions later this week, but the Senate will not likely act on it fast.
So there's time to make your views on GM salmon known. Click here to contact your Representative and Senators.
You can also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to speak with your Representative's and Senators' offices.
While you're at it, let them know what you think about the upcoming Farm Bill and 2012 budget for farm programs ... see our sidebar, “Sustainability farming programs targeted”.
Alaskan representative leads the charge
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, offered an amendment – approved by voice vote – that would block the FDA from spending money to approve AquaBounty's application.
Young argued that the modified fish would compete with wild salmon in his state. Other critics fear that GM salmon could cause allergies in humans and that escaped GM salmon could weaken the wild salmon population.
While there's a real basis for fears about allergens being introduced, and "gene drift" from the GM fish to wild fish, the risk of harm to wild salmon seems extremely remote.
The GM fish are Atlantic salmon, which cannot interbreed with wild Pacific salmon, and they'll supposedly be raised only onshore, in tanks with no connections to rivers or the sea ... starting in Panama, of all places.
But one can't predict whether raising GM-salmon under riskier conditions might be allowed in the future.
AquaBounty created its GM salmon by adding a growth-hormone gene from king salmon, and a gene from ocean pout that activates the hormone gene ... more than occurs in natural salmon.
The FDA has seemed inclined to approve the GM salmon, saying there are no worrying differences from natural salmon and a reasonable certainty of safety. The agency is also considering whether the fish would have to be labeled “genetically modified”.
As the Associated Press noted, “Approval would open the door for a variety of other genetically engineered animals, including a more environmentally-friendly pig that is being developed in Canada or cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease.” (Jalonick MC 2011)
  • Jalonick MC. House moves to bar genetically modified salmon. The Associated Press. June 15, 2011. Accessed at