Genetically engineered salmon: Coming soon to a bagel near you?


Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for safety of human consumption?

If not, then we in the Jewish community need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, kashrut, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel, non-kosher) genes forced into its DNA. 

Manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label.  You won’t know you are eating it.

Over 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval.  The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.

Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.

HEALTH

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.

Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish.  Overall, GE salmon have 40% higher levels of IGF-1.” 

“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.

The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat.  Further research is needed.

KASHRUT

The Orthodox Union says GE salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales.

However, even though some authorities currently state that this fish is kosher, there are Jews who will reject it, saying, “I definitely won’t eat it – it’s not kosher to me.”  Views ranged from an ethical sense of kashrut to “it’s not the natural, healthy food G-d created for us.”

Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Netiya said the Torah prohibits eating swimming animals that do not have both fins and scales. Eel lacks scales, suggesting GE salmon might not be entirely a salmon, and therefore may not be kosher. Also, creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species.

Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski said, even though a small amount of a non-kosher food doesn’t usually render a food non-kosher, it does when it becomes an intrinsic part of the food.  It is prohibited to genetically engineer salmon with eel genes because such boundary crossing is prohibited by the Creator. Using genetic engineering to cross boundaries set up by the Creator creates an imbalance and distortion, disrupting a person’s connection with the Creator.

ENVIRONMENT

GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment.  But the FDA allows for 95% sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs.  Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.  Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.

Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon?   Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food?  AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.   

The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances.  Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.

ACTION

Friends, if this salmon is approved, you and I may have to stop eating salmon completely to protect our health and/or Jewish practice. Even doing so might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.

We can make a difference on this issue!  Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26 at: http://tiny.cc/in82qw. To help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, contact www.gefreeseafood.org or the author.


Lisa Kassner is the San Fernando Valley co-coordinator of the Label GMOs Campaign.

UC Irvine student divestment vote rejected by school officials


A resolution passed by the UC Irvine undergraduate student council calling on the university to divest from companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine” has been rejected by the UCI administration.

At the same time, leaders of the Orange County Jewish community denounced “the nonbinding resolution, drafted and introduced with no forewarning by a small group of students with a personal agenda and deliberated in the absence of students with opposing views.”

The Nov. 13 student council resolution, titled “Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid” and passed unanimously 16 to 0, asked the UCI administration, and the UC system as a whole, to divest specifically from Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon and other companies.

[Related: UC-Irvine student senate approves non-binding divestment resolution on Israel]

In a news release, the student council described the resolution, introduced by council members Sabreen Shalabi and Shadi Jafari, as “a historic move that could initiate a domino effect across American campuses.”

In response, the UCI administration released a statement on Nov. 14 on the resolution stating that “such divestment is not the policy of this campus, nor is it the policy of the University of California. The UC Board of Regents‘ policy requires this action only when the U.S. government deems it necessary. No such declaration has been made regarding Israel.”

Shalom C. Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Service of Orange County, lauded the strong ties between UCI and Israeli universities and promised that this work “will not be undermined by divisive efforts…that are contrary to the interests of students.”

In past years, the UCI campus has been the scene of numerous incidents between Muslim and Jewish students, with some Jewish groups criticizing the administration for its failure to take remedial action.

However, earlier this year, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake led a faculty delegation to Israel, which signed cooperation agreements with Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Technion and Tel Aviv University.

Jewish businessmen in suit against GE allege discrimination


Two Jewish businessmen—a father and son—have filed a lawsuit against GE Financial Services, accusing the company of racial and religious discrimination.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Harris Schwartzberg and his father, Albert, were subjected to anti-Semitic behavior from Richard Arrowsmith, their GE loan administrator.

Arrowsmith was “driven by an animosity toward the Schwartzberg family because of its Jewish ancestry,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages.

GE is fighting the charges and told futureofcapitalism.com that the suit was illegitimate.

The Schwartzbergs, who run 12 nursing homes in Louisiana, allege that Arrowsmith used “technical, curable defaults” to harass their company and deny them the funds they required to conduct their business—a series of actions that forced them to incur avoidable financial expense.

The lawsuit also asserts that the reputation of the Schwartzbergs and their health care business was tainted by Arrowsmith’s actions.

According to the lawsuit, Arrowsmith referred to the Schwartzbergs as “those people” to the duo’s chief financial officer, Julie Gutzmann, and repeatedly told her of his anti-Semitic feelings and his desire to conduct an “assault” on the Schwartzbergs and their business.

“We are GE—the 800-pound gorilla—we do whatever we want,” Arrowsmith said at one point, according to the filing.

Russell Wilkerson, GE Capital’s managing director of communications and public affairs, said it is company policy not to comment on legal matters, but that “the case is baseless.”

“The charges,” he told futureofcapitalism.com, “are false and egregious.”