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Genetically engineered salmon: Coming soon to a bagel near you?

by Lisa Kassner

April 11, 2013 | 10:52 am

Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for safety of human consumption?

If not, then we in the Jewish community need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, kashrut, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel, non-kosher) genes forced into its DNA. 

Manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label.  You won’t know you are eating it.

Over 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval.  The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.

Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.

HEALTH

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.

Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish.  Overall, GE salmon have 40% higher levels of IGF-1.” 

“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.

The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat.  Further research is needed.

KASHRUT

The Orthodox Union says GE salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales.

However, even though some authorities currently state that this fish is kosher, there are Jews who will reject it, saying, “I definitely won’t eat it – it’s not kosher to me.”  Views ranged from an ethical sense of kashrut to “it’s not the natural, healthy food G-d created for us.”

Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Netiya said the Torah prohibits eating swimming animals that do not have both fins and scales. Eel lacks scales, suggesting GE salmon might not be entirely a salmon, and therefore may not be kosher. Also, creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species.

Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski said, even though a small amount of a non-kosher food doesn’t usually render a food non-kosher, it does when it becomes an intrinsic part of the food.  It is prohibited to genetically engineer salmon with eel genes because such boundary crossing is prohibited by the Creator. Using genetic engineering to cross boundaries set up by the Creator creates an imbalance and distortion, disrupting a person’s connection with the Creator.

ENVIRONMENT

GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment.  But the FDA allows for 95% sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs.  Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.  Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.

Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon?   Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food?  AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.   

The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances.  Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.

ACTION

Friends, if this salmon is approved, you and I may have to stop eating salmon completely to protect our health and/or Jewish practice. Even doing so might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.

We can make a difference on this issue!  Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26 at: http://tiny.cc/in82qw. To help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, contact www.gefreeseafood.org or the author.


Lisa Kassner is the San Fernando Valley co-coordinator of the Label GMOs Campaign.

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