Cloned Salmon – Labeling Is Not the Issue: Safety and Ethics Are

Something Fishy This Way Comes

By James J. Gormley

Two days of public hearings have passed on the approval of the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption, the AquAdvantage GE salmon — including a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing today to discuss whether or not these GE fish should be labeled as such if they are approved; a 60-day public comment period on the labeling issue will be open until November 22, 2010.

But the question of labeling presupposes that allowing the cloning is a done deal, despite the fact that the FDA has made up its mind in the absence of proof of any kind, much less anything resembling definitive evidence of safety: for salmon, for the environment and for humans.

According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), over 300 environmental, consumer, health, and animal welfare organizations — along with salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants — signed joint letters to the FDA opposing the approval of AquaBounty’s GE salmon.  A coalition of groups also submitted 172,000 comments from individuals opposing the approval and urging clear, mandatory labeling should the fish be approved despite overwhelming public opposition.

“This transgenic salmon is the first GE animal intended for food, yet the human health impacts of eating these GE fish are completely unknown,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at the CFS. “These GE fish also pose unacceptable risks to wild salmon and the marine environment.”

These “unknowns” were raised repeatedly at Monday’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) hearing, and the committee was unable to come to any conclusion as to the safety or efficacy of the GE salmon. 

CFH agrees with CFS that the hearing on labeling is premature given that the VMAC has not approved this salmon for human or animal consumption.
 
The public is rightly outraged about the possible approval of GE salmon.

In fact, over 300 environmental, consumer, health, and animal welfare organizations — along with salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants — signed joint letters to the FDA opposing the approval of AquaBounty’s GE salmon.  CFS and a coalition of allied groups also submitted 172,000 comments from individuals opposing the approval and urging clear, mandatory labeling should the fish be approved despite overwhelming public opposition.

As I wrote in a recent post, America seems to be in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of varied and sundry strange health “solutions” that are no less wacky than Kramer’s cinematic masterpiece but, unfortunately, not funny … and also rather horrific.

Here are a couple of the latest “strange but true” ideas that would be laughable if they weren’t attracting widespread media attention –and even some supporters!

Food from cloned cattle or cloned meat grown in vats
According to Spence Cooper in a blog post on FriendsEAT.com on August 17th: “Recent news reports indicate some U.S. cloned cattle have been created from the cells of dead animals […] And since the U.S. approved cloning over two years ago, you may have already grilled a cloned steak this summer from beef cells extracted from a dead carcass.”

Approved by the FDA in January 2008, the alleged purpose of using the technology would be to improve the taste or “quality” of meat and milk that we all consume every day. Because of the cost of cloned cows ($15-20,000 a cow), it is predicted that the offspring of cloned animals will be used (or consumed), not the clones themselves.

Small consolation that. In a written statement at the time, the National Farmers Union said: “Consumers have the right to know if the food they feed their families comes from a cloned animal.”

In addition to ethics, the “right to know” is really what it boils down to: labeling and for consumers being able to make informed choices as to whether they are buying food from clones, cloned offspring, GMOs or what have you, although labeling will most likely not be required.

As I wrote in a Nutrition Industry Executive article, in December 2006, entitled “The FDA’s Strange New World,” the FDA had begun campaigning for cloned animals as early as 2001. In the January-February 2001 issue of FDA Consumer, an FDA writer enthused: “Transgenics can turn animals, such as cows, sheep and goats, into pharmaceutical factories.” Gee, isn’t that a reassuring dream?

“Should there be any limits as to how far we as a species can go in manipulating the fabric of life?” I asked in Better Nutrition magazine back in October 1997. “Or should we, like Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s nightmare, proceed with the ultimate arrogance that nature is not only up for our unlimited exploitation but for our boundless tinkering, as well?”

Statins with that burger?
In a paper coming out in The American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Darrel Francis and colleagues from Imperial College London (U.K.) suggest that giving out statin drugs to people at fast-food restaurants will help reduce heart disease risks caused by the fat-drenched meals.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which funded the study, is none too pleased with the suggestion of the “MacStatin” that the authors propose. In a BHF blog post by Dr. Mike Knapton dated August 13th, the foundation says:

“Promoting a pill for junk food would lead us towards medicalizing a huge swath of our population when really people need to take more responsibility for their own health.”

In the Cardiology article, the authors write: “We envisage a future in which fast food restaurants encourage a holistic approach to healthy eating. On ordering an unhealthy meal, the food will arrive labeled with a warning message […] and on the tray, next to the ketchup, will be a new and protective packet, ‘MacStatin,’ which could be sprinkled onto a Quarter Pounder or into a milkshake.” Indeed. If that represents a “holistic approach,” then I imagine the authors have a bridge to sell us, or to themselves.

Take-Away: I envisage a future in which food is food — not grown in Franken-vats or derived from cloned animals or plants or spiked with statin drugs or any other pharmaceutical. I hope that we all can work toward such a tomorrow and that we can leave the comedies and fright-fests to the movie makers, not on our plates.

Comments (1)

Mrs. Sherwood's 3rd Hour Biology Class

As a class, we feel that, not knowing if the genetic tweeking is safe, the food should be labeled so that people can make an informed choice of using the product or not.

My students are 10th grade Navajo students on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and don’t find that cloning is too terrible because of the worldwide need for food, but that there should be enough information for them to make choices.

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