Ocean Currents » ge salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:30:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The People have Spoken: Massive Pushback to Genetically-Engineered Salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/26/the-people-have-spoken-massive-pushback-to-genetically-engineered-salmon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/26/the-people-have-spoken-massive-pushback-to-genetically-engineered-salmon/#comments Sat, 27 Apr 2013 00:02:50 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5576

Two and half years ago, genetically engineered salmon exploded on the national stage.  April marked another big milestone in the ensuing debate about whether genetically engineered animals will be allowed in the U.S. food supply.  This isn’t some esoteric, pointy-headed debate.  It really is about the future of food and what you feed your family. And as an ocean conservation organization, we are especially concerned about the consequences for the future of seafood, wild fish and healthy oceans.

The Food and Drug Administration’s final comment period has now closed on the agency’s draft decision to approve an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon.  We hope you let your voice heard by submitting comments to the agency. 

If you joined the chorus of voices, you are certainly  in good company. As the deadline  approached, there was a massive outpouring of concern from nearly every sector of society.  Among others, these include:

  • Nearly 1.5 million members of the public have written to FDA requesting that the agency complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before a decision to approve the fish is made.  It is worth noting that the agency has refused to do this to date even though this request has been in front of the agency since their plans went public in September 2010.
  • Dr. Anne R. Kapuscinski, a world-renowned expert on the environmental risks of GE fish, submitted to FDA a scathing review  that essentially showed that the agency had ignored all the recommendations she made back in September 2010. Given she literally wrote the book on risk assessment of GE fish, it is stunning that agency officials have simply looked the other way.
  • Congress has joined the debate. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation on GE salmon.  The bills would require the FDA to fully evaluate the risks of GE fish to wild fish and healthy oceans as well as require labeling of any GE food, so consumers simply can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace.  A group of 12 Senators has also written directly to FDA Commissioner Hamburg expressing their concerns over the approval process.  And in an important symbolic gesture earlier this spring, the full Senate passed by voice vote a non-binding budget amendment that would require labeling of GE fish.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the market for GE fish may be drying up before the fish even arrives at store shelves.  Major retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other retailers representing over 2000 stores across the United States have pledged to not sell the fish, even if the government approves it.  As every business knows, you need a willing buyer for your product if you are going to stay in business.  It increasingly looks like a market for GE fish won’t exist in the U.S. – unless the FDA does the necessary analysis to rigorously show little risk of harm to consumers or the environment.

Shortly before the deadline, we submitted our comments to the FDA – all 37 pages of them.  I welcome you to read about our concerns here.  And I encourage you to follow me on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard. 

 While the comment period has closed, this isn’t the end of the debate about the future of fish.


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Mark Lynas and GMOs: the Case of Genetically Engineered Salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/16/mark-lynas-and-gmos-the-case-of-genetically-engineered-salmon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/16/mark-lynas-and-gmos-the-case-of-genetically-engineered-salmon/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 18:25:39 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4269

Credit: Salmon Photo by Joy Prescott / Shutterstock

When I was rambunctious kid, my mother always told me it was more effective to get someone’s attention with a whisper than a shout. Earlier this month, Mark Lynas, the well-known anti-GMO activist, got everyone’s attention by changing his long-held position on genetically-modified foods. But he didn’t scream it from the rooftops or otherwise perform a media-grabbing stunt like his famous pie-throwing incident. He calmly, thoughtfully, and yet forcefully explained in front of an academic audience in London how he had come to this change of heart.

In short, Lynas maintained he “had discovered science”. Over the course of an hour, he minced no words while eviscerating what he called the anti-science NGO community that has long opposed the development and deployment of GE crops – and of which Lynas was a leading figure for over a decade. The foundation of his argument was that there is now a scientific consensus that there are no health effects of genetically-engineered crops and after 3 trillion meals eaten with no demonstrable evidence of harm, “the GMO debate is over”. While many have countered Lynas’ treatise, there remain a host of unanswered questions about the environmental risks of GE animals – especially fish – should this technology proliferate beyond plants. Scientific consensus has not yet emerged and it is needed if a skeptical public is to accept GE fish.

Lynas’ criticism of NGOs stung, for in all we do at Ocean Conservancy, we pride ourselves in being science-based, including having practicing scientists on our staff and respected scientists on our leadership team and Board of Directors. With science at the foundation, our team of policy experts, lawyers and communications professionals works on some of the biggest ocean challenges of our time. Among others, these include overfishing, ocean acidification, marine debris and the future of our seafood supply.

But what about GMOs and our government’s recent recommendation to approve the first-ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption?  Since 2010, Ocean Conservancy has been a vocal advocate for additional science before this engineered version of farmed Atlantic salmon is allowed in our seafood supply. We have also advocated that the fish should be labeled (if approved), so consumers can decide for themselves whether they want to consume it. Unlike Lynas, who rails against those who see evidence that GMO plants pose a health risk, our focus instead has been on the environmental consequences should GE salmon escape into the sea. Leading academic scientists, some at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and just last week, seven member of the U.S. Senate, conclude there is cause for concern.

Nonetheless, the federal Food and Drug Administration has recommended approval. The clock is now ticking, with public comments due to the FDA by February 25.  At Ocean Conservancy, we will continue to advocate for a full Environmental Impact Statement – including a state-of-the-art quantitative risk assessment – before the fish is approved. Given the uncharted territory that GE salmon represent for the future of seafood, a commitment to more robust science is essential if the public is to have confidence that these new fish won’t threaten our ocean.

One might think that Lynas’ conversion at the Oxford Farming Conference would obviate the need for further debate about GE salmon. Indeed, he concluded his talk by stating “now is the time for you (the anti-GM lobby) to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably”.

For fish, especially, I remain unconvinced. And like many others, I want additional scientific analysis before GE salmon is served up at my local fishmonger.

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The Seafood Seven? Senators Act to Delay FDA Ruling on GE Salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/12/senators-act-to-delay-fda-ruling-on-gesalmon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/12/senators-act-to-delay-fda-ruling-on-gesalmon/#comments Sat, 12 Jan 2013 19:15:00 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4202

Salmon jump. From Nagem R.’s Flickr Stream. Used under a Creative Commons License.

If you missed the Food and Drug Administration’s controversial ruling during the holidays – to recommend approval of an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon as the first-ever, genetically engineered animal allowed for human consumption – you aren’t the only one.

It came as a surprise to conservationists, media and policymakers alike, and the ruling opened a surprisingly short public comment period that closes on February 25.

Thankfully, seven U.S. senators are standing up for the ocean and for healthy, sustainable seafood by sending a letter to FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg today requesting a 60-day extension to the public comment period. The senators rightly believe that the public deserves more time to adequately review and comment on the FDA’s lengthy, yet intentionally narrow, report that will have far-reaching implications for the future of fish and the health of the seafood on our plates and in our ocean.

Ocean Conservancy commends the strong stance taken by Senators Begich and Murkowski of Alaska, Senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington State, Senators Wyden and Merkley of Oregon, and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Even though FDA had previously received 400,000 comments in opposition to genetically-engineered salmon, their final recommendation based on the narrow environmental assessment  is that this “Frankenfish” – as many people refer to it – will result in “no significant impact” on the environment.

In their letter to the FDA this week, the senators state their concerns once again about genetically-engineered salmon, calling it a “controversial and unsustainable seafood product” that could potentially escape into U.S. waters. And they promise to introduce legislation in the new Congress calling for a more comprehensive environmental review and “labeling of any such products sold in the U.S. so consumers are aware of what is on their dinner plates.”

My last piece for National Geographic explains just how flawed the FDA’s recommendation is and what Congress should to do in the New Year to make sure these controversial fish do not make it to the ocean. At present, the U.S. simply does not have in place the regulatory structure needed to address the myriad of issues posed by genetically-engineered fish.

Until it does, Congress should work to pass Senator Begich’s PEGASUS Act or similar legislation that requires FDA to take the environmental risks seriously before approving GE fish.

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FDA Misses the Boat in Signaling Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/28/fda-misses-the-boat-in-signaling-approval-of-genetically-engineered-salmon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/28/fda-misses-the-boat-in-signaling-approval-of-genetically-engineered-salmon/#comments Fri, 28 Dec 2012 15:25:33 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4024

Just as I was getting ready to head out for my Christmas break last week, my email Inbox signals that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its recommendation to approve the first-ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption. For those who track the FDA, they know this isn’t unusual – the agency often makes controversial rulings right before the holidays, when decision makers, media and the public are trying to have some well-deserved downtime with their families. It was a kind of an unwelcome, fishy Christmas surprise, nestled among the garland and mistletoe.

My latest piece for National Geographic explains just how dangerous this recommendation is and what Congress needs to do in the new year to make sure these controversial fish do not make it to the ocean. The U.S. is simply not equipped to deal with this scenario.

Read my blog post on National Geographic News Watch here.

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A Requiem for Proposition 37? Not if Californians Vote “Yes” Tomorrow http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/05/a-requiem-for-proposition-37-not-if-californians-vote-yes-tomorrow/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/05/a-requiem-for-proposition-37-not-if-californians-vote-yes-tomorrow/#comments Mon, 05 Nov 2012 17:25:27 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3426

Buzz around proposition 37 has grown steadily over the summer and is peaking now. Credit: Upwell

My latest post for National Geographic Ocean Views, about how an anti-Prop. 37 ad blitz from companies like Monsanto is threatening Californians’ right to know what they’re eating, is drawing lots of discussion. Here’s an excerpt from the post:

While Ocean Conservancy concludes we don’t have enough information about the impacts of GE fish to move forward yet, like many supporters of Prop. 37, we also strongly believe that GE salmon should be clearly labeled if the federal Food and Drug Administration approves it for sale.

Up until relatively recently, we were in good company with virtually twice as many California’s in support versus opposed to the initiative.

Then the money came in to play. With a huge war chest from Monsanto and many of the major food production companies, a blitz of ads has rapidly reduced support by 9 percentage points over a matter of days. While nearly every poll ever done on labeling of GMOs has shown upwards of 80 percent support for the basic right to know how one’s food is produced, Californians are now turning their backs on this innate desire, largely in response to these ads.

This increase in funding by the opposition shows how marketing and big bucks can truly influence voters. If you’ve ever wondered why politicians spend huge sums of money on ads, it is because they work. Prop. 37 is a prime example.

See what everyone is saying and weigh in over at National Geographic, and if you live in California, don’t forget to vote YES on Proposition 37 at the polls tomorrow. The future of food depends on it.

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Genetically engineered organisms are in “hot water” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/31/genetically-engineered-organisms-are-in-hot-water/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/31/genetically-engineered-organisms-are-in-hot-water/#comments Tue, 31 Jul 2012 16:59:16 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2013

I’m pretty much a classic rock guy.  I grew up on the Stones, Springsteen, and Skynyrd.  But a new song caught my attention, as much for its message as its foot stomping beat.  The punk rock band “Hot Water Music” recently released a new single, “State ofGrace,” to bring attention to their concerns about the growing presence of genetically modified foods on our dinner plates. Give it a listen. It is a solid tune, but it’s also accompanied by a pretty edgy video that pushes the boundary of where science ends and art begins.  When I first watched it, my science side cringed but my artistic side was moved by the graphic images.

Lead singer Chuck Ragan recently told Rolling Stone that “the fact of the matter is that our society as a whole has veered away from the simplicity of growing food and is now suffering and will continue to suffer the consequences until a greater population decides to make a change for the better.” One line from the song really resonated with me: “May we combine tradition, science and innovation to benefit what’s ailing”.

But the really cool part about “State of Grace” is that the song highlights that a whole new group of people is being brought into the discussion about the proliferation of genetically engineered foods. Hot Water Music can reach an entirely different audience than we can here at Ocean Conservancy, and it’s this kind of ever expanding discussion that can really change the way the whole nation views genetically modified organisms.

The band joins this growing movement at a key time.  Californians will get a chance this November to vote on whether they have a fundamental right to know whether the foods they buy have been genetically engineered. Proposition 37 is supported by a broad array of food safety organizations, organic farmers, medical professionals, chefs, celebrities, and food retailers and other businesses. At Ocean Conservancy, we are especially worried that the first genetically engineered animal – an engineered version of farmed Atlantic salmon – may soon enter the food supply and not be labeled so consumers can tell.  You can learn more about our efforts by reading some of my earlier blog posts.

If State ofGrace resonates with your musical and activist tastes, you can find out where the band is playing this summer by visiting their website.  By sharing their passion with a younger generation, Hot Water Music may be able to bring even more people into this important discussion about the future of our food supply.  Even though Led Zeppelin is still in my top 10 list, I think it may be time to add some new music to my iPod.

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Genetically engineered salmon: Shouldn’t our nation’s fish agency have a say in this? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/24/genetically-engineered-salmon-shouldnt-our-nations-fish-agency-have-a-say-in-this/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/24/genetically-engineered-salmon-shouldnt-our-nations-fish-agency-have-a-say-in-this/#comments Thu, 24 May 2012 18:04:47 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=773

Photo: Jumping Coho Salmon by LouLou Beavers

Within the last hour, there was a floor vote on an amendment to S.3187, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, put forth by Senator Lisa Murkowski from the state of Alaska. Why should you care? Because this has big implications for the future of fish in the ocean and on our dinner plates. To our disappointment, the amendment did not pass. But nearly 50 percent of the Senate supported Senator Murkowski’s efforts to protect our wild fish from the risks of genetically engineered fish. That alone is a strong statement.

If you aren’t up on the controversy, the FDA is considering approving the first ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption. This animal is a fish – an engineered version of farmed Atlantic salmon – and that is why Ocean Conservancy and my ocean colleagues have been leading an effort to ensure all the hard questions are asked and answered before the fish is allowed on the market. Today, a group of environmental organizations wrote in support of Sen. Murkowski’s amendment. (.PDF)

You can help us in this fight by joining Ocean Conservancy and the Just Label It campaign to tell the FDA to require labeling for all GE food.

FDA’s existing regulatory structure fails to take a hard look at this first approval. We are worried about what would happen if the GE fish escapes and enter ocean ecosystems. There are unresolved questions about competition with wild fish for food and space, and even interbreeding with wild fish.

This is why the idea behind Senator Murkowski’s amendment is so important. It would ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – our nation’s marine fisheries management agency – has a definitive decision-making role in the process of approving genetically engineered salmon and any other GE fish that might follow in its footsteps. Given that NOAA is the primary federal agency with the management experience and scientific expertise to properly assess the environmental and economic risks of GE fish, we believe it is only common-sense that NOAA has a definitive decision-making role.

As you might imagine, genetic engineering of fish is a new endeavor that demands caution and thorough assessment. The public has repeatedly expressed concern about GE salmon; poll after poll has revealed deep discomfort amongst broad sectors of the population about eating GE animals. Given the potential risks to our ocean environment, it is essential that Congress ensures that the right agencies with the right expertise are asking the right questions.

We are pleased that a large number of Senators agree. It just makes sense that our nation’s fish agency has a say in this fish.

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