Mikael Thalen
March 22, 2013

The Oregon House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources heard testimony Thursday regarding three bills concerning genetically modified organisms including labeling initiatives and an outright ban on the importation of genetically-engineered fish.

H.B. 2175 would require foods that contain or are produced using genetically modified material to be labeled. Supporters of the bill point to the fact that over 80 percent of food in US grocery stores contain genetically modified ingredients yet have no indication directly on the product. Those in opposition, such as the bio-tech giant Monsanto, claim labeling would harm them and local economies financially and would put a stigma on their products that they claim are safe.

The greatest concern for supporters is the increasing amount of long-term studies linking the ingestion of genetically-modified foods to negative health effects as opposed to the industry’s 90-day studies that show the foods to be safe. Studies have linked genetically-modified foods to sterility, hair growth in the mouth and infant mortality in hamsters. In a study by Dr. Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist at King’s College London School of Medicine, rats that were fed a lifetime of genetically-modified corn produced large tumors (200 to 300 percent increase), and 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely.

H.B. 2530 would prohibit the importation of genetically-modified fish into the state as well as the cultivation, farming or incubation of the fish. Releasing any genetically modified fish into the wild will also be outlawed. It also prohibits the importation of food products for animals or humans that contain genetically-modified fish.

The genetically-modified salmon, know as “AquAdvantage,” is the first GM animal to be approved for human consumption in the U.S. Produced by Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc., the salmon has been engineered with genetic material from an eel-like species called ocean poutto to produce growth hormones continuously, allowing it to be full grown in less than 250 days, as opposed to 400 for natural Atlantic salmon. The company claims the sterile fish will help economically and be less of a stress to the environment, although no studies have been conducted to verify the claims.

Despite reassurance that none of the genetically-modified salmon will reproduce and endanger natural species if released into the wild, some experts say that genetically-modified fish DNA will mutate over time and soon be able to breed and spread their DNA to other species thus altering the genetics of fish.

Supporters of the bill to ban genetically-modified fish point to several studies including the 1999 Purdue University study on transgenic fish that found that the larger size of genetically-modified fish attracts natural salmon much more often causing natural breeding to drop. The offspring of the genetically-modified fish also live much shorter lives. Sixty fertile genetically-modified fish put in with natural fish could destroy a population of 60,000 in as little as 20 years according to the study. Supporters of the bill are also worried about possible adverse health effects from ingesting the fish which have not been tested by the FDA.

If the ban of genetically-modified fish does not pass, House Bill 3177 would require strict labeling requirements for the fish. No genetically-modified fish may be sold, displayed for sale, or offered for sale for human consumption unless proper signage is displayed.

Even with the push by biotech giants such as Monsanto to keep GMOs label-free, 90 percent of American citizens approve of GMO labeling. Despite just being approved for sale and consumption, already a large pushback has been seen against the genetically-modified fish. Over 2,000 food retailers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have pledged not to carry the genetically-modified fish in their stores.

The Oregon legislature is set to hear several other bills soon regarding genetically modified crops and seeds as well.

Mikael’s article first appeared at Examiner.com.

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