Fish

Congress Moves to Ban Frankenfish

Special interests trump science in the debate over transgenic salmon.

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The scientific consensus is that genetically-altered salmon is safe. But that hasn't stopped Congress from voting to ignore some inconvenient truths.

Last week the House of Representatives approved an amendment [PDF] to the agricultural appropriations bill. The amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), prohibits funding for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of biotech salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies in Waltham, Massachusetts. The vote was applauded by a motley collection of "consumer" and environmental activist groups. Opponents assert that the biotech fish, dubbed "frankenfish," threaten wild salmon and human health.

First some background: AquaBounty's faster growing biotech salmon eat 10 to 25 percent less feed than do conventional Atlantic salmon. AquaBounty salmon grow twice as fast as wild Atlantic salmon as the result of the installation of two genes, a promoter gene derived from the eel-like ocean pout and a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon. People have long eaten both species. 

Aquaculture already provides 50 percent of the fish that people eat around the world. Enhancing farmed fish production could relieve pressure on the world's already way overfished [PDF] wild fisheries. So, on the face of it, it would appear that biotech fish are a win for consumers and the environment.

But it's been a long slog for AquaBounty. The company created the genetically enhanced salmon back in 1989, and alerted the FDA that it planned to seek permission to commercialize the fish in 1995. FDA approval is required for all genetically engineered animals under its authority to regulate "new animal drugs." A new animal drug is defined as "an article intended to alter the structure or function" of an animal, which, in this case, means the two added genes. 

Last September, the FDA finally held a public meeting to discuss the possible health and environmental consequences of the biotech salmon. With regard to human health issues, the agency's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee found no biologically relevant differences between conventional and biotech salmon on nutrition and allergenicity. Consequently, the committee concluded that the biotech salmon "is as safe as food [PDF] from conventional Atlantic salmon, and that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the consumption of food from this animal."

What about possible deleterious effects on the environment? The main activist concern is that some AquaBounty salmon might escape and interbreed with wild populations. As evidence for the harm that such an escape might cause opponents cite the "Trojan gene effect" scenario devised by Purdue University animal science professor William Muir. That scenario suggested that such interbreeding could lead to the extinction of wild populations. The idea is that biotech fish might have a mating advantage but nevertheless be less adept at surviving long term in the wild.

Muir's work with schools of tiny freshwater fish called Japanese Medaka assumed that the chief mating advantage is that biotech fish would be bigger than wild ones. As it happens AquaBounty's fish are not bigger; they just grow faster. In any case, recent research [PDF] has found that genetically modified fish are actually at a selective disadvantage to wild fish. Similarly, another recent study reported that genetically modified coho salmon fared badly against wild ones when it comes to reproduction. Muir himself testified at the FDA hearing in September that "the data conclusively shows that there is no Trojan gene effect as expected. The data in fact suggest that the transgene will be purged by natural selection. In other words the risk of harm here is low."

To make the risk even lower, AquaBounty salmon are sterile triploids, that is, instead of having the usual two sets of chromosomes, their fish have three sets. In addition, the company has devised a process that make essentially all of their fish females, so there are no males available to supply sperm even if the fish were fertile. Finally, the company plans to raise their biotech salmon in freshwater tanks in Panama. Panama has no salmon, and if the fish escape into the tropical waters they will die from the heat.

Given that the scientific evidence currently suggests that the biotech salmon pose no health risks to people and do not significantly endanger the natural environment, why would Congress vote to override an approval process based on science? According to the Associated Press, Alaska's Rep. Young "argued that the modified fish would compete with wild salmon in his state." In other words, plain old-fashioned special interest pleading trumps science.

Yesterday, the non-profit scientific advisory organization, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), issued a commentary, "The Science and Regulation of Food from Genetically Modified Animals." The CAST commentary notes that "all technologies are associated with some form of risk, but a critical and often overlooked issue is that all risks are relative to alternatives." The commentary points out that wild fish stocks are being depleted unsustainably now and that interbreeding between conventional farmed fish and wild fish already poses genetic risks to wild stocks. "Thus, the comparative risk of sterile transgenic salmon is likely to be less than that of fertile, selectively bred Atlantic salmon," reckons the CAST commentary. The CAST report points out that in the absence of unique risks, it doesn't make any scientific sense to subject genetically enhanced animals to different regulatory standards.

The CAST report understatedly concludes that the current regulatory approach "has resulted in an inhibitory effect on commercial investment in the development of genetically engineered animals for agricultural applications with ramifications for U.S. agriculture and food security." Everybody, including activists, should be wary of this kind of vote. In future conflicts, Congress may well vote to overrule science that the activists believe support policies they prefer. 

Last week, Ronald Stotish, the president of AquaBounty, issued a blistering statement warning [PDF], "Whether or not you support this transgenic salmon, we should all agree these types of shenanigans have no place in a complex scientific debate. These actions threaten the fundamental basis of a science-based regulatory process. Americans deserve better from their elected representatives."

Yes, we do.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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89 responses to “Congress Moves to Ban Frankenfish

  1. You think this is bad, just wait till they develop fish that taste like beef.

    1. What if they made a fish that tasted like vagina? mmmm…….. Vagina!!!!!

      1. Uh, you mean they don’t?

        1. just smell like one…

  2. Oh, this will end badly. Don Young and other (R)s will denounce the “tranny fish” as unGawdly and the Dems will lust for a pristine wilderness that is long lost forever.

    Maybe Rush (King of the Rednecks) Limpdick will spiff the world with his vast high-school grad knowledge.

    1. Until then, we’ll sit back and watch the primitivist Left shriek in horror at the bounty science can provide.

      1. Read the global warming threads for primitivist Libertarians shrieking in horror at the bounty science can provide.

    2. Maybe Ed Schultz will doctor some audio and make Frankenfish sound like a racist vigilante.

      It’s just as likely as your scenario, shrike.

      1. Fuck you, redneck.

        1. Frankenfish are sluts!!

          1. Whip it out, Schultz… I’ll give you oral pleasures like you’ve NEVER had, my brother.

            1. I can always count on you, little buddy.

              1. But, but, but… I thought *I* was your “little buddy”!

                1. I just want to say, +1’s all around. Great thread everybody.

    3. shrike = one-trick pony

    4. You’re kidding….he went to high school???

  3. Where do the neck-bolts go on a frankenfish?

    1. On their laser cannons.. Duh.

      1. On their [frickin’] laser cannons.. Duh.

      2. Aren’t you the moron who made a fool of himself responding to my point, when you proved you didn’t understand it and couldn’t read for basic comprehension?
        (Checks) yes, you are. Why haven’t you found a bridge yet and ended it? No one will miss you, your overt aggression based on your own ignorance indicates pretty strongly you’re not someone that people care about.

        1. Are you STILL harping about that shit you were harping about the other day, Blappo?

          Jesus. Go post somewhere else if you don’t really like it here.

        2. butthurt troll is butthurt

        3. and couldn’t read for basic comprehension

          You might want to try that again.

          1. I’ve checked the threads on 2 stories today, and can someone please assure me that the Reason forums are not now 98% Shrike trolling and everyone else responding to him?

            1. no, we’ve got a newer, more aggressive, more full-retard-bringing model named Blappo.

    2. The final bolt placement will be somewhere between the Pectoral Fin(s) and the Gill Covers, and henceforth shall be dubbed “Finagills” (pronounced the same as “finagle”, due to all of the tweaking necessary to get the damn things not to corrode.)

  4. Would that our benevolent Congress was around when people began farming cattle in enclosed fences and barns.

    For surely they displaced open range practices that provided more jobs and were much more humane to the animals, who were free to live and die in their natural element.

    Down with technology!

    We are all Luddites now!

  5. According to the Associated Press, Alaska’s Rep. Young “argued that the modified fish would compete with wild salmon in his state.” In other words, plain old-fashioned special interest pleading trumps science.

    I bitched about this last week. This is the only thing that actually being used as a reason: unfair competition. Waaaa. Bullshit. If this new salmon is banned, it’s hopeless. Pass me a government teat.

  6. Frankenfish will cause global warming and economic collapse.

    The cure is to vote for Obama again. He will feed us and shield us from harm.

    1. Fake shrike ~ Real shrike

      1. Who can even tell?

        1. Who can even care?

  7. I’m assuming a big fat patent goes along with that FDA approval?

    1. A patent would be a completely separate thing from FDA approval–neither requires the other. And patents are issued by the patent bureau not the FDA. I’d be very very surprised if they don’t already have a patent from when they created these fish in 1989.

      1. A patent would be worthless without FDA approval. The two go hand-in-hand.

        The FDA does grant marketing exclusivity under Waxman-Hatch Act, which is very similar to a patent, but that would not apply here.

        1. A patent would be worthless without FDA approval.

          Not when selling the fish outside the U.S.

      2. My point is, both IP laws and FDA approval are governemnt granted privileges that would not exist in a free market, and I would question if these Frankenfish would have even been developed without the them. IMHO, remove all of the external interferences and let the market sort it out.

        1. Since patent laws would not exist in a free market, does that mean that the US has never had a free market economy?

          1. By George, I think he’s got it!!!

          2. I’m sure there are reams of discussion on this topic, so I apologize for being late to the game, but how is it a “free market” if anyone can steal your inventions and intellectual property?

            Or is there a way to prevent this that doesn’t involve patents? I’m not being sarcastic; this is a sincere question.

            1. Or is there a way to prevent this that doesn’t involve patents?

              The courts? I dunno. Then again, I think reason has covered this topic previously, at least as far as IP goes. Like when someone patents a process and never actually develops whatever ‘property’ and waits for someone else to so they can sue.

            2. pistols at 20 paces?

            3. 1. Intellectual property is an oxymoron. It was never meant to be real property in the first place (patent’s expire, what kind of ownership is that?).

              2. People imitate and copy successes all the time in all kinds of ways, not just the technology details, and the market does just fine. In fact it’s a good thing.

              Market success should require more than just “calling it first” like 8 year-olds. You need to compete and keep competing, or else go find someone else to work for.

  8. Hopefully this will not get through the Senate.

  9. I think this is the worst photoshop I have ever seen. Can’t you get an intern or something?

    1. Its fine, and probably very close to what reactionary moronic shitheads who bandy about terms like “frankenfish” actually think such a fish look like. Maybe the face should be facing down though.

      1. What percentage of people who fear “frankenfish” simply for being “unnatural” have what amounts to pet “frankenwolves”? Do they worry about that?

  10. A MUSLIM woman sentenced to six months’ jail for making a deliberately false statement that a racist policeman tried to forcibly remove her burka has been freed on appeal.

    Judge Clive Jeffreys said he was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt it was Carnita Matthews, a 47-year-old Muslim woman from Woodbine, NSW, who accused the police of racism because the person who handed in the complaint to police was wearing a burka at the time.

    To reach the level of proof of identity to prove the case, it appears Mrs Matthews would have been required to identify herself by lifting her burka at the police station to prove her identity ? which is what started the uproar in the first case.

    Mrs Matthew’s lawyer Stephen Hopper defended them, saying: “They are obviously happy with the result and are expressing it in a way that is culturally appropriate to them”.

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/ne…..6078801032

    1. They are obviously happy with the result and are expressing it in a way that is culturally appropriate to them.

      They’re shooting AK-47s into the air and ululating?

      1. Her husband is beating her for driving the car in the first place.

        1. Was she smuggling a genetically modified salmon under her burka?

  11. “Opponents assert that the biotech fish, dubbed “frankenfish,” threaten wild salmon and human health.”
    Actually the fish threaten Congressman, because their IQ has been found to be double digit.

  12. Can’t we all just start dying of over-population and lack of food supply like we’re supposed to, without hearing this stupid productivity drivel?

  13. In Maryland, “frankenfish” means snakehead. Please be careful with your terminology.

  14. Enhancing farmed fish production could relieve pressure on the world’s already way overfished wild fisheries.

    Doubtful. Much fish feed is made, in part, of wild caught fish (esp. for salmon). Expand the productivity of farmed fish, which keeps the price down, and people will demand more farmed fish, which in turn raises demand on wild fish.

    Think of it in terms of land animals. When people demand more beef, the price of soybeans rises. Why? Cattle eat soybeans. When you demand more beef, you’re demanding more soybeans. Likewise for farmed fish: when you demand more farmed fish, you’re demanding more wild fish.

    1. We can farm the fish food fish too. Jerbs fer everybody. Consumers, Big Fish, science, the environment, and the unemployed all benefit.

    2. I’d prefer the market pick the winners and losers, not the half-wits on the hill.

    3. NJP: using feed more efficiently helps – also the company has developed similarly fast growing biotech tilapia that are fed on plant materials.

      1. Using feed more efficiently doesn’t help. That’s my point. If you use feed more efficiently, you keep the price down, so people demand more. And then you catch more wild fish to meet the demand. So the pressure on the wild fish continues. It’s akin to Jevons Paradox, except with fish.

        The plant feed for tilapia is good news, though.

        1. Next, they need to GM a tilapia that doesn’t taste like mud.

    4. “Think of it in terms of land animals. When people demand more beef, the price of soybeans rises. Why? Cattle eat soybeans. When you demand more beef, you’re demanding more soybeans. Likewise for farmed fish: when you demand more farmed fish, you’re demanding more wild fish.”

      Nice try, but the wild fish used as food are not what humans want to eat. If they were, those fish would be marketed to humans rather than used as farm-fish food.
      Just to make it clear, soy-beans processed through a cow are of higher value than the alternative.

      1. soy-beans processed through a cow are of higher value than the alternative.

        True, as far as I’m concerned. Even if you’re just talking about cow pies.

        1. And cow pies are definitely preferable to tofu.

      2. Nice try, but the wild fish used as food are not what humans want to eat. If they were, those fish would be marketed to humans rather than used as farm-fish food.

        Problem is, you’re catching what the wild fish want to eat. If you catch salmon to grind into fish food, or if you catch salmon’s dinner to grind to fish food, you’re keeping the pressure on the wild fish either way. Shooting you is bad, but if I cut your calorie intake to 500 a day, you’re in similar trouble.

        1. Oh, for gods sake.

          Farmed plants feed farmed tilapia, farmed tilapia feed farmed salmon(frankenfish), farmed frankenfish feed humans(not farmed yet).

          If demand goes up, you grow more plants to feed more tilapia to feed more salmon. See?

          And since the tilapia will eat parts of plants we don’t want we can feed them our plant garbage.

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    1. This bot seems closer to sentience than most. Hmm.. Skynet, is that you?

  16. “Frankenfish”

    See, why do lefties always accuse rightwingers of fear mongering, when they poison the well by referring to these fish in this way?

    The left uses fear as much as the right.

    1. But Hallibuton Halliburtin Halliburton. Hallibuton? Hallibuton Halliburton, Halliburton Halliburton….Blackwater. Paul Ryan pushing a wheelchair off a cliff.

  17. I’d rather have legislators ban stuff than unelected bureaucrats anyway. It’s better than pretending that value judgments can be arrived at objectively. See The Myth of Scientific Public Policy by Robert L. Formaini.

    1. Robert|6.21.11 @ 7:45PM|#
      “I’d rather have legislators ban stuff than unelected bureaucrats anyway. It’s better than pretending that value judgments can be arrived at objectively.”

      Care to try that again, removing all the built-in contradictions?

  18. Hey, can these blokes sell their uberfische despite lacking FDA “approval”? I’d buy it, I don’t care if it has to have a lable that says “our awesome fish isn’t approved by the jackbooted US congress, nor their surrogates at the FDA”. I seem to recall seeing things “not approved by the FDA” before … or am I just a victim of reefer madness and I imagined it all?

  19. Frankenfish? Is that the nickname Al gives to his wife’s vag?

    1. why his wife? he’s a pretty big cunt himself.

  20. Hmmm…DDT, global cooling, global warming, third hand smoke, eggs will kill you, well only the whites will kill you, well actually you should only eat the yolk but only on Fridays…yeah, I trust the government with my science. Heck, I don’t even trust my scientists with my science anymore since they found out politicians will pay for results they like.

  21. yet another symptom of your American disposable consumer culture.

  22. So are the scientists that are coming up with research that say these fish are safe the same ones that have evidence that the earth is warming, or are they the ones with the evidence that the Earth is cooling?

  23. Ron, good article.

  24. are these comments real? my friend just linked me this website and i have never seen so many intelligent posts before.

  25. If I am the congress officer, I will do so.

    Because at least it has not been shown to be safe, or will be a big trouble, right?

  26. If I were the congress officer, I will do so.

    Because at least it has not been shown to be safe, or will be a big trouble, right?

  27. We should ban water — 0 people a year drown in their mineral water bottles

    1. But how many are killed when they are bashed in the head with those same mineral water bottles?

      1. Probably about 0.5, but if it saves just half a person, it’s worth it! In fact, let’s ban materials science — hard materials make it likelier that objects made of them will be used in some manner or another to harm people, not to mention endangered squirrels!

  28. Did anyone else read that title as Ben Franklinfish?

    I gotta stop watching Glenn Beck.

  29. So since scientific consensus says these fish are completely safe to eat, then logically those pushing forward this bill are ‘Biotech-Deniers. I’m sure the MSM will pick up on this shortly and point out the inconsistency here.

  30. already poses genetic risks to wild stocks. “Thus, the comparative risk of sterile transgenic salmon

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