Exposed: Federal funding for GMO salmon?

  • Published on October 8th, 2011

GMO salmon, aka frankenfish, get tax subsidiesWhy are our tax dollars going to subsidize the creation of Frankenfish? It’s bad enough the government has totally failed to do any kind of regulation for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including blocking attempts to at least mandate labeling for these artificial and barely-tested foods .

But why on earth should taxpayers have to subsidize the hugely-profitable companies that are developing them?

Food and Water Watch, a national consumer group, on October 3 revealed that a corporation that has launched a for-profit venture to raise genetically engineered salmon has received $1.95 million in federal research grants at taxpayer expense.

The relevation followed on the heels of an article in Grist that exposed how AquaBounty Technology recently received $494,000 to study technologies that would render the genetically engineered salmon sterile. “This would reduce the likelihood they could reproduce with wild salmon, should any escape into the wild — a scenario that has many environmentalists concerned,” according to the piece by Clare Leschin-Hoar on September 29.

“After digging up federal records, we discovered that in addition to the USDA grant, AquaBounty Technologies has received almost $2 million dollars in federal research grants since 2003,” said Lauren Wright, Communications Manager of Food and Water Watch.”

Specifically, the Department of Commerce awarded AquaBounty $1.68 million between 2003 and 2005, while the United States Department of Agriculture gave more than $550 thousand between 2003 and 2011, and the National Science Foundation awarded AquaBounty close to $200 thousand in 2009, according to Wright.

“Almost all of this money has gone into researching sterilization techniques that can be applied to genetically engineered fish,” Wright stated. “Because of the risk that escaped GE fish pose to wild populations, sterilizing GE fish has become an important consideration as AquaBounty pursues regulatory approval from the FDA for GE salmon. The FDA has stated that AquaBounty’s proposed production plan may allow up to five percent of GE salmon to remain fertile.”

In light of the new findings, Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, slammed the federal government for spending taxpayer dollars on funding the creation of GE salmon – Frankenfish.

“The U.S. government is giving taxpayer money to fund a project in Canada while our economy is faltering,” said Hauter. “Why is our government bailing out AquaBounty at a time when we’re radically cutting our federal budget? This is research the company should do to prove their product is safe — the American people shouldn’t be paying for it.”

The Obama administration is trying to fast-track the approval of genetically engineered salmon, but is encountering fierce resistance from a coalition of recreational and commercial fishermen, environmentalists, Indian Tribes and consumer advocates who are opposing the approval of the Frankenfish because of its potential harm to human health, wild salmon populations and ecosystems.

“The 1.95 million on top of $494,000 could have gone towards research or efforts helping already existing endangered salmon populations,” noted Kayla Carpenter, an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe who is of Hupa, Yurok and Karuk ancestry. She received the David Brower Youth Award in 2005 at age 17, along with Erika Chase, for organizing a Salmon Run Relay to raise awareness about the plight of the Klamath and Trinity rivers and the salmon and other fish populations that depend on them.

On the West Coast, the impact of any genetically engineered salmon escaping into the wild could have dramatic consequences. The Sacramento River fall run chinook salmon, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, collapsed to record low population levels in 2008 and 2008, due to a combination of record water exports out of the California Delta, declining water quality and poor ocean conditions. The fall run numbers have improved this year, but protected runs of Central Valley spring run and winter run chinook salmon continue to decline.

As the federal funding of Frankenfish is disclosed, recently released internal US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents reveal that the agency’s own scientists expressed doubts about its policy toward labeling genetically modified foods, while raising questions about the foods’ safety.

“The FDA’s policy toward genetically modified foods has been that they are ‘substantially equivalent’ to conventional foods and therefore don’t require special labels—unlike most other industrialized nations that require labeling,” according Ken Roseboro, editor of the Organic and Non-GMO report (See: FDA ignored own scientists’ warnings on GMO food safety).

In June 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to prohibit the FDA from using funds to approve the controversial salmon. Legislators in both Alaska and California are attempting to pass bills that would require labeling the fish as a GMO product or to prohibit it from being approved for human consumption.

If approved, GE salmon would be the first “transgenic” animal allowed into our food supply. For more information and action alerts, check out Food and Water Watch’s “Frankefish” page.

Like what you read? Like us on Facebook for more updates!

More on GMOs:

Dan Bacher is the Editor of the Fish Sniffer online and print magazine. He blogs at Sacramento for DemocracyAlternet and DailyKos.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.