Sound Consumer | May 2001
Sometime this year, federal regulators could approve a genetically engineered (GE) salmon for marketing. The GE salmon grow to market size in 18 months instead of 36 months. Aqua Bounty Farms from Waltham, Massachusetts is also working on enetically engineered tilapia and trout.
Despite ecological concerns, none of the U.S. environmental agencies has taken the lead in deciding whether GE fish should be approved. Instead, responsibility for regulating GE fish has been put in the hands of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA reasons that inserting a growth-promoting gene into the salmon is analagous to a drug and should be regulated as such. Rebecca Goldberg, of Environmental Defense, says "Having the FDA assess environmental risks would be like having the Fish and Wildlife Service assess food safety."
Fewer than half of seafood firms are following safety standards to ensure Americans don't eat bad fish. A report from the U.S. General Accounting Office has found that only 44 percent of seafood companies are meeting strict new safety standards passed in 1997.
The tightened standards to try to prevent 60,000 of 114,000 food poisonings caused by bad seafood each year. Listeria, histamines and other toxins easily contaminate some seafood. The FDA says it now will begin visiting high-risk seafood firms several times over the year, instead of making just one annual inspection for contamination.
Washington State supplements federal seafood safety regulations with its own.
The Washington State Health Department advises women of childbearing age and children under six not to eat any tuna steaks and to limit how much canned tuna they eat. The state's recommendation comes amid growing concern about the damage mercury can cause, especially to the nervous systems of children. Last July, the National Research Council reported that 60,000 children may be born yearly in the U.S. with neurological problems linked to mercury consumed when their mothers were pregnant.
Some fish that grow large, live long and prey on smaller fish tend to have large concentrations of mercury. They include tuna, shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. The Environmental Working Group advises women of childbearing age to eat no more than one can of tuna per month.
Health officials say many other species of fish, including salmon are fine to eat.
The Bush administration proposes drastic funding cuts in its 2002 budget for agriculture conservation and farmland protection. Programs eliminated include those offering farmers incentives to protect water supplies, create wildlife habitat on farmland, and permanently protect their farmland from development. The programs under the axe include the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, Farmland Protection Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and others. They comprised less than four percent of total farm spending of $32 billion in fiscal year 2001.
The budget, at press time, was with congressional committees that write annual spending bills for the Department of Agriculture.
Farmers planting more GE crops
American farmers reportedly will boost their plantings of genetically engineered (GE) crops this year, despite global opposition to GE foods and signs of growing unease among U.S. consumers.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 63 percent of this year's soybean crop is expected to be genetically engineered, up from 54 percent in 2000. Nearly two-thirds of the cotton crop is expected to be biotech varieties. About 24 percent of the 2001 corn crop will be genetically engineered, compared to 25 percent last year.
The report also indicates farmers are cutting back on overall corn acreage and switching to soybeans because of higher energy and fertilizer prices.