Do not satiate appetite for salmon with GE products

The guest column (“New salmon can address myriad problems” Oct. 11) by Elliot Entis, former president of AquaBounty Technologies, completely misrepresents the plethora of food-safety, environmental and economic concerns raised by members of Congress, the FDA and its Advisory Committee and the public related to the company’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon.    

Entis’s promises of “reducing the carbon footprint of production” are completely unfounded. Lest we need to remind the company that they are planning to raise their GE eggs in a facility in Canada (an energy-intensive process to begin with) and then ship them to Panama for grow-out and processing and then ship the fish to the U.S. for consumption.  This hardly sounds like an “eco-friendly” alternative.

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Earlier this month, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) led 29 members of the House of Representatives in asking the FDA to halt the approval process of AquaBounty GE salmon in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) led 10 senators in a similar letter to Hamburg. The letters called on the agency to thoroughly examine and address the serious flaws with FDA’s approval process and include greater public input and scientific data. 

The FDA raised doubts about low glucose levels and high incidences of jaw erosion, focal inflammation and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the AquAdvantage salmon. FDA’s own Advisory Committee echoed its own concerns regarding inadequate sample sizes, incomplete data, questionable culling practices, troubling physical abnormalities and poor environmental and scientific assessments. Additionally, the absence of data on disease resistance and inadequate nutritional composition data leave the safety of these animals largely unknown.   

Dr. Gary Thorgaard, the only fisheries scientist on the committee, called on FDA to conduct an environmental impact statement, a sentiment echoed by other members of the committee during the discussion period.

Entis’s suggestion this technology is just like conventional breeding of animals is completely misleading and false.  As former President of Aquabounty, he should know best that Atlantic salmon cannot breed with Chinook salmon or the arctic eelpout in the wild.  The creation of novel DNA can bring with it novel health concerns including increased allergy risks.

Finally, to suggest that raising GE salmon will take pressure off wild stocks disregards the entire problem facing our wild fisheries.  Salmon are carnivorous fish after all, which need to eat fish themselves. Farm-raised salmon need to eat about 3 pounds of fishmeal to produce one pound of salmon. 

We know there is a great appetite for salmon, but the solution is not to “farm” GE versions; the solution is to work to bring our wild salmon populations back.

Washington


The election in Venezuela was unmatched success

From Bernardo Álvarez, 
ambassador of the Bolivarian 
Republic of Venezuela to the U.S.

Ever since Venezuela held legislative elections on Sept. 26, a number of misconceptions have been making the rounds amongst pundits and politicians in Washington and beyond. Most recently, it was Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, who echoed this misinformation. 

The election was an unmatched success. More than 11 million Venezuelans voted — 66 percent turnout — for the 165 members of their unicameral legislature, peacefully and freely casting their ballots as they have so many times before.

President Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) claimed victory in 18 of 24 states, won 48 percent of the party-line national vote and 98 seats. A coalition of 10 diverse opposition parties won 47 percent of the party-line national vote and 65 seats. A small independent party, PPT, gained two seats.

Many people in the U.S. have asked how a 1 percent difference in party-line national vote totals could equal a 33-seat difference in the makeup of the National Assembly. Venezuela, like many countries, has had a mixed electoral system since 1993, with 110 seats being elected by majority and the remaining 52 by proportional representation (party-line vote). This mixed system allows for minority parties to have representation, while giving preponderance to the majority system — people vote directly for the candidate they consider might represent better their interests in a particular district. 

Some critics of President Chavez have argued that districts were gerrymandered to benefit the PSUV, but they ignore various districts in which the opposition gained from the country’s mixed system. In the state of Zulia, for example, the PSUV took 44 percent of the vote, but got only three seats to the opposition’s 12.

What the historic Sept. 26 elections showed was that Venezuela’s institutions of participatory democracy have continued to strengthen and gain the support of the country’s people. The historic turnout and the return of the opposition to the democratic game  serves as evidence the Venezuelan people understand that the direction of the country is ultimately theirs.  

Also important is the fact that the political opposition seems finally to have realized President Chavez’s single-minded focus on fighting poverty and inequality is popular. According to a study conducted by the Venezuelan think tank Centro Gumilla, 60 percent of Venezuelans value the social content of the country’s democracy and the importance of citizen participation. 

Unfortunately, for many of our critics here in Washington — including on Capitol Hill — it’s easier to repeat misconceptions about Venezuela than it is to accept that the country is diverse and that its government is democratic and, yes, socialist.

Washington