An arch foe of most things genetically modified, environmental groups acknowledge the impact of fish genetically altered for farms is hard to quantify. But the organizations assert too many are escaping into the wild and pose a threat to wild salmon. The green groups insist the much larger g-m-o salmon compete with native fish for food and could contaminate the gene pool of wild salmon, making them less able to survive.
The coalition of more than 60 groups that's petitioned the government includes consumers, environmentalists and commercial fishermen. They want a moratorium placed on the domestic marketing and importation of genetically engineered fish until the government has conducted adequate testing. If the request is rejected, the coalition is prepared to litigate.
SLUG: Salmon splashing in tank
The group is basing its moratorium call on two main concerns. The first is what it calls the threat of "biological pollution" posed by the genetically altered fish. Those fish are much larger than native salmon and have a distinct advantage in reproduction. But critics say research indicates up to one-third of the offspring of the genetically engineered fish die. They say release of just 60 such fish into a population of 60,000 natural salmon would lead to extinction in 40 generations.
Andrew Kimbrell: "So this stands Darwin on his head.
"And it's important to remember unlike chemical pollution, there's no federal recall here. FDA, the Bush administration, can't call these fish back. Once they've been released in the wild, that's it; no way to stop this terrible arithmetic from happening."
With 33 species of salmon already on the threatened or endangered species lists, the coalition says the genetically altered fish effectively become a dangerous invasive species. SLUG: Grocery store/Fish counter
In addition to the environmental concerns, the coalition claims the fish pose a threat to human health, either through the introduction of new allergens or lower nutrition to the food chain.
Commercial fishing interests in the Pacific Northwest worry the genetically engineered fish could erode or destroy consumer confidence in food safety.
Zeke Grader: "This is one of the things that we'd like to be able to offer up to consumers, to be able to assure them that, in fact, when they're getting fish that it is a wild product, that it is natural."
Democratic lawmakers like Oregon's Peter DeFazio say they'll offer legislation aimed at more tightly regulating the introduction of genetically modified foods. Critics allege the current system is plagued by regulatory entanglement ... and that the government is irresponsible in applying decades-old food and drug regulations to the science of genetically altered material.
The government has six months to respond to the coalition's petition.