The fact that agribusiness interests are always in the market for new ways to increase production, even at the expense of animal welfare and human health, comes as no surprise. Now, following the once unthinkable development of cloned animals for use in agriculture, biotech companies are setting their sights on genetically engineered (GE) animals to further capitalize on industrial farming.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will potentially approve a GE salmon, called AquAdvantage, as the first animal of its kind intended for human consumption. AquAdvantage salmon were created using the growth hormone of a different type of fish, along with genes from yet another fish, so that they would grow twice as fast as normal salmon while kept in intensive confinement and allow farmers to maximize production.
Aquaculture - or essentially, fish factory farming - is the fastest growing agriculture industry in the world, with an estimated 10 billion fish killed for food in the U.S. each year. Routine practices, including intensive confinement, cruel slaughter methods, and poor water quality cause immense suffering for fish. Fish are sentient beings capable of feeling pain, fear and distress, just like other animals, and for these GE salmon, life may be particularly hard. Due to their unnatural makeup, AquAdvantage fish experience higher rates of deformity, abnormality and mortality, all of which can only be worsened by farming conditions.
While, as a physician, I recognize the health concerns associated with eating any animal product, I find the idea of using GE animals for human food especially troubling. Because this would be the first time GE animals are marketed as food in the U.S., little is known about the health risks associated with consumption of genetically altered animals. Even more alarming, the FDA may allow GE salmon to be sold without any identifying labels. Scientists also suggest that approval of GE salmon would increase the already existing risks of drug resistance associated with animal agriculture. Since they are probably more susceptible to disease, GE fish farming could result in even more antibiotic overuse.
Approval of AquAdvantage salmon could open the floodgates on the race to genetically engineer other farm animals. In fact, a GE pig with altered digestive characteristics is already close in the FDA’s queue for approval as human food. Also in the running is a type of mad cow disease resistant cow.
If we don’t stop the approval of AquAdvantage salmon, a frightening precedent will be set, making it difficult to prevent other GE farm animals from being developed and raised on factory farms. That’s why Farm Sanctuary, American Anti-Vivisection Society, and other organizations are taking action now by submitting comments to the FDA to let them know that GE animals have no place in the human food supply and that resources would be better used to end factory farming, rather than to promote it.