In a jaw dropping revelation, Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent with the Guardian, reports the Obama administration has awarded a research grant of $500,000 to financially troubled AquaBounty, the Massachusetts based biotech company attempting to introduce unlabeled genetically engineered GE salmon into the US marketplace.
AquaBounty’s GE salmon has been spliced with a growth hormone gene forcing it to grow up to five times faster than normal.
Goldenberg claims campaigners suggest the $500,000 grant to AquaBounty amounts to a bail-out for the firm’s main investor, the business tycoon and former economics minister of Georgia, Kakha Bendukidze.
“They are also comparing it to the Solyndra controversy, which saw a solar company go bankrupt after receiving government loan guarantees,” notes Goldenberg.
Additionally, AquaBounty’s funds were issued by the US Department of Agriculture, a federal agency that plays a key role in evaluating and monitoring biotechnology, which represents a conflict of interest.
The USDA said it had followed the proper procedures in making the grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) ” including a review of AquaBounty’s financial information.
“This is research that any public university or independent institution could be doing, so why is the USDA funding this interested company to do it?” said Colin O’Neil, a policy analyst at the Centre for Food Safety.
These developments are troubling for many reasons:
1) Corporate Subsidies Paid by Taxpayer
The Obama Administration is using taxpayer money to essentially bankroll a private corporation’s attempt to unleash the first genetically modified animal into the U.S. food chain.
2) GE Salmon Under FDA Evaluation
At the same time the Obama Administration is funding AquaBounty’s GE Salmon, a federal agency (the FDA) has been assigned to objectively evaluate AquaBounty’s GE salmon to determine the impact genetically engineered fish will have on the consuming public, and wild Atlantic salmon.
3) GE Salmon Threatens Wild Salmon
Why is the Obama Administration funding this project when experts claim genetically modified salmon are a potential threat to naturally wild Atlantic salmon currently on the Endangered Species List? “Once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these GE fish remain sterile. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits”
4) No Labeling Requirements
Why hasn’t the Obama Administration advised the FDA to label GE salmon? The public does not approve of unlabeled GE salmon, yet the Obama Administration is using public funds, even as the FDA has made it clear they have no intention of labeling AquaBounty’s salmon as genetically engineered. The agency claims that since there’s no material difference between the flesh of the GE fish and the flesh of regular farm-raised Atlantic salmon, they aren’t required to be labeled separately.
5) Strong Public Opposition
The population at large does not trust or approve of genetically altered food. Last year, seventy-eight percent of adults surveyed did not want genetically engineered salmon. And nearly 200,000 comments opposing GE salmon was posted on the Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) website. In a poll conducted by Lake Research, 91 percent of Americans believed the FDA should not allow genetically engineered fish or meat into the marketplace.
As many concerned citizens have pointed out, there is an obvious conflict of interest in funding research on GE animals by companies designing those animals — especially with taxpayer money issued by the GOVT responsible for regulating the same companies their giving grants to.
When the USDA issues AquaBounty a $500,000 grant with the approval and under the direction of the Obama Administration, and the FDA is willing to approve AquaBounty’s product based on limited research performed by AquaBounty, the same company receiving the grant money, that amounts to crony capitalism.
In hearings on transgenic fish, the FDA knowingly withheld a Federal Biological Opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibiting the use of transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“This adds further evidence that in fact GE salmon pose a serious threat to marine environments and is another compelling reason for the FDA not to approve the fish for commercial use,”said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.
“While the FDA applauded the company’s choice of land-based containment as responsible, it never revealed that it is illegal in the U.S. to grow genetically engineered salmon in open-water net pens”
As The Center For Food Safety (CFS) points out, despite this knowledge, the FDA has not consulted in depth with the expert fisheries agencies regarding the current Aquabounty GE salmon.
The documents released by CFS also include an email from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which further revealed that:
“Shortly after the Atlantic salmon was listed as endangered, several of us from USFWS and NMFS spent 2 days down in Maryland meeting with Aqua Bounty and FDA about development of genetically modified salmon and discussion around the need for FDA to engage in Section 7 consultation with the Services. We never heard a peep out of FDA or Aqua Bounty after that”
The FDA has based its evaluation for approval of GE salmon on the limited, inadequate, and subjective studies conducted by AquaBounty Technologies itself. The FDA claims AquaBounty’s GE salmon poses no harm to consumers because the company has proven that the genetically engineered salmon has the same nutrients, fatty acids and minerals as conventionally grown salmon.
Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with Consumers Union says the FDA needs much more data. “They need more data on the allergy question, and I think most any allergy scientist would say the same thing”
Hansen explains that fish are one of the top five foods people are most allergic to and the sample size used of six fish in the testing was far too small to determine whether consumers could be allergic.
Hansen added the FDA approval panel was mostly comprised of GE cheerleaders, with no fish ecologists or allergists despite AquaBounty tests suggesting GE salmon could be much more allergenic than regular salmon.
And there’s evidence that AquaBounty’s GM salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, as well as more antibiotics.
Low Nutritional Value
According to Hanson, AquaBounty’s own data reveals their GE salmon has less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than regular farmed salmon in worse ratios.
And because their GE salmon doesn’t have the fats, it doesn’t taste as good. “So basically everything you eat salmon for, it doesn’t have, or it’s got less of than any other kind of salmon”
“Shades of Solyndra”
“Certainly this does have shades of Solyndra. We have seen this company’s [AquaBounty] stock plummeting for months and months ” years actually ” and what does the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) do but give this company money?”, said Colin O’Neil, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety.
Goldenberg notes the grant to AquaBounty comes at a time when the Obama administration is on the defensive when it comes to its handling of energy and environmental projects. Emails released by the White House suggest that Obama fundraisers influenced the decision to fund Solyndra.
The Obama administration, dismissed disclosures that AquaBounty could run out of cash in early 2012. AquaBounty has already received some $3m from the US government and $6m in funds from Canadian government.
The company’s chief executive, Ronald Stotish, all but admitted that government support was vital to the company’s survival. “It is true that we don’t have unlimited funds,” he said. “We are a small company so these grants are important to us.”
Goldenberg claims the company’s interim financial report, issued on 23 September, just five days before the grant announcement, records a net operating loss of $2.8m for the first six months of this year, $500,000 more than the previous year. “Current balances are sufficient to take the company into Q2 2012,” the report says.