Thursday, 3 December 2015

18. Frankenfish are here! Farmed Salmon and Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved the first genetically modified food animal for farming; an Atlantic salmon inserted with genes from Chinook salmon and eelpout (an eel-like fish) to make it grow twice as fast as natural wild salmon. The genetically modified salmon's sex hormones have also been manipulated to ensure they're all female and sterile. 

Eelpout fishing: Photo Eelpout fun 

This strange 'Frankenstein with scales' or 'poefish', named after Frankenstein's creator Edgar Alan Poe, has been created for factory-farming in tanks on land. It opens the floodgates to many other edible farmed animal species including chicken, pigs, cows and other fish species now waiting in the genetic engineering pipeline.
Remarkably, the US Food and Drug Administration will not require additional labeling to identify this culinary aberration when it appears in our shops, which it surely will when land-based fishmeat manufacturers and their supermarket outlets latch on to the economics of shorter production cycles and reduced feed costs for 'poefish' production. This fishmeat is produced in "facilities that resemble warehouses, eliminating any interactions between the farmed fish and the external environment", to quote the website of Aquabounty Technologies.  
Believe it or not, as far as the FDA are concerned, this 'poefish' is classed as a drug, not a fish, "because the recombinant DNA construct introduced into the animal meets the definition of a drug." But, because this 'poefish' is allegedly nutritionally equivalent to conventionally farm-raised Atlantic salmon, it doesn't need to be labeled either as a drug or as a genetically engineered product.  So presumably it will just be labeled as 'farm-raised'

 Photo: Kruger Kaldnes RAS and Veolia Water Technologies 

Which brings me at last to my blog:
 Diet, Nutrition, Farmed Salmon and Cancer. 
Wild salmon absorb carotenoid from eating pink krill, giving the salmon's  otherwise grey meat its distinctively appealing pink colour. Farmed salmon get no krill in their cage pens so are fed canthaxanthin, a chemical pigment manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche.
The European Commission scientific committee on animal nutrition issued a warning about the pigment and urged the industry to find an alternative. But the British Food Standards Agency took the position that normal consumption of farmed salmon poses no health risk and has not banned the pigment from animal feed. Cancer can strike some years after the seeds have been sown however, so one wonders whether the FSA took this incubation time factor into account. 
Scientists are far more concerned however with studies that show that farmed salmon accumulate significantly more cancer-causing PCBs and toxic dioxins than wild salmon thanks to their pellet feed cocktail, which contains higher concentrations of fish oil than wild salmon normally consume. Man-made contaminants, PCBs, dioxins  and insecticides make their way into the ocean and are absorbed by marine life. These pollutants accumulate in fat that is distilled into the concentrated fish oil extracted from sardines, anchovies and other ground-up fish to form the pellets fed to the farmed fish.  It takes 4.5 kilo of wild fish to produce 1 kilo of fishmeal pellets fed to a farmed salmon.  
                                                         Photo: Picjumbo

Thanks to their concentrated fishmeal, farmed salmon are far fattier than their wild cousins, but they contain less of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. They also ingest a cocktail of chemicals  antibiotics, pesticides, and other carcinogenic chemicals.  Pesticides like teflubenzuron are given to the farmed salmon in their sea cages to combat the sea lice which infest their overcrowded pens, (up to 90,000 fish in an area just 100ft by 100 ft is not unknown. The mess they make leaches out into the sea to create a major industrial seaboard pollutant that seriously impacts both on local wild sea life and migrating salmon; a vicious circle. 
A residue of the toxic cocktail ingested by the caged fish remains in the plastic shrink-wrapped farmed salmon steak which you buy in your supermarket.  It will not be long before it is a genetically engineered faux-pink 'poefish' on your plate, masquerading as farmed, or even wild, salmon. Unless, that is, you buy certified 'wild caught' salmon when it is in season, and has survived the sea louse pollution from fish farms in its migration from and return to its spawning river. 
Further Reading 
AquaCounty Technologies   Modern Genetics and Aquaculture
Los Angeles Times  Fish farms become Feedlots of the Sea.  What's Wrong with Fish Farms?   FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Salmon
ABC News  Frankenfish. GMO Salmon declared safe to eat
Wikipedia    Sea lice which parasitize salmon farms and interact with wild fish.

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