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October 4th, 2012

President Obama: Don’t Let Industry Convince You That GE Salmon Is Safe

By Tim Schwab

AquaBounty Technologies has made a desperate plea to President Obama, apparently enlisting a tiny battalion of biotech advocates to pressure the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the company’s main product, genetically engineered (GE) salmon, which has been stuck in the approval process for two years. 

AquaBounty represents the biotech industry’s avant-garde, as its fish would be the first ever GE animal to enter the food supply anywhere in the world. Biotech corporations have tremendous interest in this regulatory approval, and the main trade group (the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which is supported by groups like AquaBounty, Monsanto and Syngenta) spent $8 million last year lobbying on issues like GE salmon.

But consumers have made clear their feelings in several polls, repeatedly and overwhelmingly indicating they don’t want to eat GE salmon. And if GE salmon is eventually approved by the FDA, consumers want it labeled so they can choose to avoid it. Food & Water Watch personally delivered more than 170,000 letters from consumers to the FDA, expressing widespread opposition to GE salmon.

By contrast, AquaBounty was only able to muster about 50 names for its sign-on letter—most of them closely tied to industry, which desperately wants FDA to deregulate GE animals. The letter accuses the FDA of letting politics get in the way of what should be an independent, scientific assessment of the safety and efficacy of a biological product. In a subsequent article in the Los Angeles Times, the biotech promoters suggest that secret government forces are intentionally stalling GE salmon’s approval. 

Let’s be clear: if there’s politics at play with GE salmon, it is coming from the biotech industry, which spent $572 million dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying Congress over the last decade, trying to influence rules and regulations. 

Signers of the AquaBounty letter include corporate reps from Bumble Bee Foods, and biotech firms Arborgen, Recombinetics, Prometheus, Hematech, and 5AM ventures. Also on the list were a number of academics, including University of California Professor (and former Monsanto employee) Alison Van Eenennaam, whose name is on several of the company’s patents. Van Eenennaam’s academic research and future career opportunities could benefit enormously from the approval of GE salmon. Another signatory, Penn State Professor Terry Etherton, previously teamed up with Monsanto scientists on a Monsanto-funded study determining that controversial growth hormones produced by the company are safe. 

The signatories also include the CEO of the Council for Agriculture and Science in Technology. While this sounds like a solid, independent organization, its board representatives include Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont. Similarly, the American Society of Animal Science represents a sizable “corporate sustaining membership,” including Elanco Animal Health, Archer Daniels Midland and Pfizer. And, by the way, the American Society of Animal Science is a member of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

Beyond this tiny echo chamber of corporate power that lavishes Congress with money to influence rules and regulations, where, indeed, are the politics? And where, in fact, is the science?

The only available science we have about GE salmon shows a fish prone to deformities and unimpressive growth rates. GE salmon also contains 40 percent higher levels of a growth hormone linked to cancer and a great potential to induce allergic reactions in consumers. Independent scientists with tremendous expertise related to GE fish—and no financial interest in the outcome—have come out on the record against it

Salmon growers have called the fish a dud, while consumers say they don’t want their children eating it. If the FDA needs a cue on what direction to take with GE salmon, it shouldn’t be looking to a letter written by investors, industry reps and academics who stand to gain financially from the decision.



16 Comments on President Obama: Don’t Let Industry Convince You That GE Salmon Is Safe

  1. Rebecca allen says:

    We need some regulations about GMOs, if not an all out temporary suspension of genetic engineering. There are no rules and it is leading to horrid consequences.

    • As all the people in the world we do not need Genetic engineering . We are killing ourselves with all this genetic engineering we are putting in our bodies. We need to know what we are eating so we can decide for ourselves.

  2. Diogenes Frustrato says:

    The previous comment comes from one of those, like so many in the anti biotech camp, who know a great deal about biotechnology, none of which happens to be true. No regulations? Can you read? If so, go here: and here Take a few weeks to begin educating yourself and trying to get reconnected to reality.

    The people who wrote the piece above obviously don’t believe what they’re saying. If they were so confident the public is opposed to AquaBounty’s salmon, why are they investing so much time and effort trying to prevent it getting to the market? Surely, if they were right, the market would kill it in its cradle. But they know they’re wrong, just as they are lying about virtually every thing they claim is a fact in their hallucinatory indictment. Don’t take my word for it — read FDA’s evaluation of the fish here:

    • Tim Schwab says:

      DIOGENES….a healthy dose of cynicism is, indeed, in order. Yes, government agencies have created rules and regulations regarding biotechnology. However, it’s simply not enough to have rules on the books; those rules have to adequately address risk and be rigorously enforced. This isn’t happening.

      For example, GE salmon–a food–is being regulating by the FDA as a drug. This means that critical food safety evaluations are not being meaningfully addressed by the FDA.

      Moreover, if you actually look into the data that you link to at the FDA, you find that independent scientists have skewered the data presented by AquaBounty, calling the statistical analysis equivocal, the sample sizes woefully inadequate, the scientific design wrong-headed, and the application of science biased in several instances.

      Bad science going into a bad regulatory structure does equal good public policy or sufficient consumer protections. This isn’t regulation—this is rubber stamping.

  3. Veg Head says:


  4. Sheriva says:

    I am totally against GMOs of any kind. And, if the government is going to allow it into the market place~it must be clearly labelled. Unfortunately, I fear if GMOs aren’t legally allowed they will be introduced in to our food supplies without our knowledge as if we were in one big ‘lab experiment’. These corporations and their cohorts will stop at nothing to control every aspects of human existence.

  5. Melody Safken says:

    Hello Mr. President,
    I am asking you to protect the United States Citizens from genetically engineered foods, including SALMON. We like the “old school” type, filled with nutrients and vitamins.
    Thank You for all you do!!
    Melody in Colorado

  6. Dukken Birkeland says:

    At LEAST label it, so people can avoid it. At BEST, don’t let it happen§

  7. Sara Tomlin says:

    I do not want to eat GE food, nor do I wish for my or anyone else’s grandchildren to be “guinea pigs” for the biotech industry. The very least I expect from the FDA is to require labeling on all GMOs! The specter of irrevocable harm to the food chain from introducing man-made animals which will inevitably intermingle with natural species is just too horrible to entertain at all. Why not invest more in sustainable food and farming practices which have proven to be safe? Obviously, people are increasingly interested in “natural” products. Otherwise, the food industry would not be plastering this all over their merchandise. GMOs are not “natural”.

  8. Jeff Hendrick says:

    There are better ways to increase food production than genetic modification .

    • Tim Schwab says:

      Absolutely, Jeff Hendrick….there are many better ways to increase food production than genetic engineering. GE lends itself well agrochemical-intensive industrial row-cropping or corn and soy, where farmers are dependent on a small number of corporate suppliers for seeds and chemicals. LIke the nebulous benefits that GE crops have offered, GE salmon is hyped to grow fast and feed the world, but the fish actually underperforms non-GE salmon.

  9. ann allen says:

    I am concerned that t we do not have enough information. Companies are more interested in making a profit than consumers health.

  10. Andrew Schuch says:

    …we need real solutions, not unethical corporate intervention :/

  11. Support the labeling of GMO foods. Vote Yes on Caifornia’s Prop 37, the labeling of genetically modified foods. If you don’t live in CA, support Prop 37 in whatever way you can.

  12. li Bendet says:

    How can you even call this a free market when the market is kept in the dark? Fascism isn’t democracy, so if you insist on the show pony elections so you can say you’re making the world safe for democracy, just live up to a modicum of free-dumb.

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