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FDA’s Approval of GE Salmon Based on Bad Science, Say Consumer Advocates

Agency’s move sets a low bar for future approvals of genetically engineered animals for human consumption

More than 20 years after the first genetically engineered plant hit American grocery stores, the FDA has approved the first transgenic animal for human consumption: a salmon.

The AquaBounty Salmon, as it is known, is an Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow more rapidly than its non-GE counterpart, allowing it to reach market size in just 18 to 20 months, compared to the standard 28 to 36 months. 

Photo of GE Salmon ProtestPhoto by Steve Rhodes The FDA received roughly 2 million public comments in opposition to the approval of GE salmon.

The FDA’s announcement last week was met with frustration, if not surprise, by environmental and consumer groups, who point to inadequate information regarding the potential impacts of GE salmon on both the environment and human health.

“We were very disappointed in the FDA for this approval,” says Michael Hansen, senior scientist with the Consumers Union, a nonprofit that works for a fair and safe marketplace for consumers. “We think it’s based on bad science.”

The GE fish was approved based on FDA findings that it is safe to eat, that the introduced gene is safe for the fish itself, and that the engineered salmon meets claims that it is faster growing than non-GE salmon. The approval pertains to two land-based salmon facilities: one in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where eggs will be produced, and one in Panama, where fish will be raised. The salmon raised in Panama will then be shipped back to the US for sale.

Hansen and other advocates have pointed to several areas in which the research relied upon by the FDA was severely wanting, including the impact of genetic engineering on human health, the impact of genetic engineering on the health of the fish, and the potential implications for wild fish populations. 

Take, for example, the AquaAdvantage salmon’s potential impact on wild fish. In its environmental assessment, the FDA found that the GE salmon would not have a significant environmental impact because they could not escape the Panama or Prince Edward Island facilities. Even if they did somehow escape, the FDA concluded the fish couldn’t survive in the surrounding environments due to water temperatures. 

However, the FDA did not conduct an analysis of the environmental impacts should the fish actually escape and survive in …more

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Turn Up the Heat Locally, Urge Climate Groups Following Cancellation of Marquee Paris March

Concurrent marches planned in cities across the world during COP21 have now taken on added significance

It’s final: The November 29 marquee climate march in Paris has been cancelled.

A week ago (November 17) we reported climate change activists saying that they would press on with a major march in Paris on November 29 despite the French government’s decision to suspend the march for security reasons following the November 13 terrorist attacks. French officials had first said that the organizers could have a stationary rally instead with only 5,000 people in attendance. (The long-planned march, similar to the People’s Climate March in New York last year, was expected to draw as many as 200,000 people.)

Photo of NYC People’s Climate March Photo by Climate Action Network International Climate groups have decided that there was no way to hold the Paris climate march without putting people’s lives at risk.

Apart from the climate march, other planned demonstrations included a “People’s Summit” on December 5 and 6 and civil disobedience actions on the last day of the talks.

But on Wednesday (November 18), after a police raid of an apartment building in a Paris suburb that left two suspected terrorists dead, Paris police cancelled all outdoor demonstrations during COP21. Given the extreme security threat, climate groups finally figured that there was no way to hold the march without putting people’s lives at risk.

The development has, of course, been a huge disappointment for climate and civil society activists who have been scrambling to put together alternative plans. "We realize the gravity of the situation, but now more than ever, we need to find creative ideas to call on people to unite around climate action,” Juliette Rousseau, coordinator of the Coalition Climat 21, an umbrella group of more than 130 civil society groups that’s been coordinating the mobilizations, said in a statement. "There is no COP21 without mobilizing civil society." 

So far it seems that the Citizens Climate Summit to be held on December 5 and 6 in Montreuil (Seine Saint-Denis) and the Action Zone Climate (ZAC), to be held from December 7 to 11 at Paris-CENTQUATRE will go forward as planned. These mobilizations will be two great opportunities to demonstrate that civil society is fighting for and implementing solutions to climate change, and determined to fight against the climate crisis. The Climate …more

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US Dolphin Safe Tuna Label is Unfair to Mexico, WTO rules yet again

Marine mammal advocates accuse trade body of putting business above dolphin protection

If Mexico and the World Trade Organization have their way, those “dolphin safe” cans of tuna you’ve been buying at the supermarket might actually come stained with dolphin blood.

Last Friday, the global trade body again ruled against the United States in a long-running dispute with Mexico over US “Dolphin Safe” tuna-labeling regulations, saying that the regulations unfairly discriminate against Mexico. The decision by the WTO's appellate body is the latest development in a trade dispute between the two countries that dates back to the establishment of the Dolphin Safe tuna label in 1990.

tuna cansPhoto by The Hamster Factor/FlickrThe dolphin-safe label (the small oval yellow logo on these cans) has helped save countless dolphins since it was established in the 1990s.

“While we are disappointed with the Appellate Body’s findings, this need not be the end of the road for dolphin-safe labeling," Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International said in a statement. Block says animal advocates will urge US trade officials to work with Mexico to figure out a solution that wouldn’t jeopardize dolphins.

The dolphin-safe label has helped save countless dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETPO) — a large marine region running from Southern California to Peru and extending out into the Pacific Ocean almost to Hawai’i  — where schools of tuna tend to swim along with dolphins. Mexico and several other countries allow their tuna industry to deliberately target, chase, and surround the dolphins with nets in order to get to the tuna. More than 7 million dolphins have died after being trapped in nets since this fishing method was introduced in 1957.

In 1990, after years of campaigning by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project, the Dolphin Safe tuna label was established in the US. The label can only be used for tuna that is not caught by chasing and netting dolphins. It also can’t be used if dolphins are killed or seriously injured during a tuna fishing expedition. According to IMMP, since the label was established, dolphin deaths from tuna fishing have declined 98 percent. Currently, only Mexican, Venezuelan, and Colombian tuna vessels are still chasing and netting dolphins.

Mexico has objected to this labeling for years, claiming these restrictions to protect dolphins — which until recently only applied to tuna fishing in …more

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Seeking Crop Elders

Scientists and crop breeders are racing to identify the wild ancestors of domesticated plants before a warming world hastens their demise

David Rupple presses two thumbs into the soft tissues of the sunflower’s broad, droopy face and parts a few of its several hundred mini florets. This flower is most likely an oil producer but he won’t know for sure until he sees the seeds. “Oils are usually all black and a smaller seed,” he says. Hanging chest high from the top of a single fat stalk and laced with a scraggly mane, the flower appears to stare back at him, hot-summer-day bored. Rupple presents two small, black fly-like seeds in his palm. “That’s probably an oil seed there.” He walks over to a much smaller flower a few yards away and plucks two seeds from its face. These large, grey seeds – more clothes moth than black fly – barely seem related to the others.

photo of young plants with wooden markersphoto Simon Giebler

I’m surprised Rupple doesn’t know which is which by sight. Some, like this one, have dinner plate-sized faces, others stand taller and produce smaller, brighter saucers. But Rupple, a fourth generation farmer, is not a sunflower expert. Even with 500 acres of sunflowers planted, that’s less than 10 percent of his 6,500 total acres in Colorado’s Prospect Valley, where he also grows winter wheat, sugar beets, hay, red beans, and corn. More to the point, this is not one of Rupple’s productive acres. We’re standing in a test plot he hosts for Colorado State University Extension, which is running a trial of some 30 recently-bred sunflower varieties for performance in actual farm conditions.

Sunflowers are drought tolerant and easy to grow, but they’re slow to mature and a pain to harvest. Pathogen and pest pressures come into play, too. “We used to just have to deal with seed weevil and now we have head moth also,” Rupple says. To meet his crop buyer’s requirement that less than 2 percent of the harvest have insect damage, Rupple employs aerial pesticide applications. At $26 to $30 per acre that’s a $13,000 input cost. On a good year, one application does the trick.

Of course, sunflowers are not alone in all of this. Each of Rupple’s crops, indeed all domesticated plants grown for food or fiber, face disease and pest challenges of some sort. Agriculturalists are, therefore, forever seeking new …more

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World’s Northern White Rhino Population Down to 3 After Death at San Diego Zoo

41-year-old Nola euthanized following long illness

Nola, one of the last four Northern White Rhinos remaining in the world died at San Diego Zoo Safari Park today following a bacterial infection.

The aging female rhino, who had been at the zoo since 1989, had been captured from the wild in Sudan when she was about two years old. Nola was brought to the San Diego Zoo from a Czech Republic zoo as part of breeding loan.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari ParkForty-one year old Nola had been suffering from a bacterial infection since May.

Forty-one-year old Nola had been under veterinary care since May for a bacterial infection near her pelvis, as well as age-related health issues, zoo officials said in a statement. On November 13, veterinarians had performed a minor surgical procedure on Nola to drain a large abscess deep in her pelvic region. The procedure, however, didn’t manage to clear out all off the infected material.

Nola’s keepers had been watching her round-the-clock since earlier this week when they noticed she wasn’t eating properly and seemed lethargic. Her condition worsened significantly yesterday despite intensified treatment efforts, and early this morning, Nola’s team of caretakers “made the difficult decision to euthanize her,” San Diego Zoo Global said in a statement.

With Nola’s death the northern white rhino sub-species’ number is now down to three individuals. The three include a 42-year old male named Sudan, and two females, 25-year-old Najin, and 15-year-old Fatu — all of who live on the Ol Pejeta Conservency in Kenya.

In April this year all the three rhinos were placed under 24-hour armed guard at the conservancy. The average life span of white rhinos is 40 to 50 years. If Sudan — the last remaining male of this sub-species — dies without mating successfully with Najin or Fatu, the northern white rhino will disappear from the planet forever.

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David Suzuki’s Grandson Discusses Tar Sands, Climate Justice, and Activism

In Conversation: Tamo Campos

Tamo Campos may be best known as the grandson of award-winning scientist David Suzuki. He is also, however, an accomplished snowboarder, filmmaker, and environmentalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Photo of Tamo Campos Photo by Nicole Ellena Campos founded Beyond Boarding, a collective of snowboarders, surfers,
artists, and friends

In 2011, Campos founded Beyond Boarding, a group of snowboarders, surfers, and artists that fights for the environment and social justice. As part of Beyond Boarding, Campos has occupied mining camps in the Sacred Headwaters of British Columbia, driven through Alberta in a vegetable oil-fueled bus, and traveled to the Amazon basin in Peru to support frontline communities. His most recent film, Northern Grease, mixes snowboarding with activism, focusing on Canada´s main contribution to climate change: the Alberta tar sands.

Last year, Campos also made headlines when he was arrested for participating in a protest at Burnaby Mountain, where Kinder Morgan is working to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline.

This past August, I was able to catch up with Campos while he was in Santiago, Chile to present at the Earth in Focus Environmental Film Festival 

How was your nonprofit Beyond Boarding born?

Beyond Boarding is a collective of snowboarders, surfers, artists, and friends. We´re basically trying to increase awareness of social and environmental justice issues within the outdoor community. It’s a fun project. We´re not all snowboarders, but we’re all engaged in becoming educated about the issues that affect us all. 

Photo of Alberta Tar SandsPhoto by Howl Arts CollectiveThe Alberta tar sands. "A lot of our projects have taken us to rural areas, where extractive industries are creating displacement, affecting water, and affecting traditional hunting grounds," Campos says. 

Do you think that the snowboarding community in Canada has changed?

I think that in many ways the outdoor community is starting to see the impacts of climate change. Unlike the rest of society, which is spending a lot of time indoors, our community is outside. We are seeing the shifts in weather patters. We are having shorter winters, extreme storms in eastern Canada, and melting glaciers. I think that this inevitably allows us to see climate change firsthand. 

And what our group asks is, …more

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NIH Says it Will Retire the Last 50 of its Research Chimpanzees

Animal welfare advocates welcome decision, point out it doesn’t help 900 other privately-owned chimpanzees in the US

In good news for animal right advocates, the National Institutes of Health announced yesterday that it was retiring the last 50 chimpanzees that it has been holding in captivity for research purposes.

The NIH had decided to end invasive research on our closest genetic relatives back in 2013 and retire most of the 360 or so animals it held at its various research labs, but it held on to 50 individuals as a sort of emergency reserve, just in case they were needed to test out solutions for some kind of medical or public health crisis.

profile of a lone chimpanzeePhoto by Ryan SummersThere’s been a growing movement in recent years against using especially chimpanzess, who are are closest genetic relatives, in invasive biomedical research.

But yesterday the agency officially announced that these remaining chimpanzees, too, would be freed. “It's time to say we’ve reached the point in the US where invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense," NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said while announcing the decision, according to an Associated Press report.

Animal welfare activists, of course, welcomed the decision. “Experimenting on chimpanzees is ethically, scientifically, and legally indefensible and we are relieved and happy that NIH is fulfilling its promise to finally end this dark legacy,” Jared Goodman, laboratory investigations director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told the Journal. PETA has for years been pushing the NIH to end research on primates.

Though the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to some, it wasn’t totally unexpected. There’s been a growing movement in recent years against using animals in invasive research, especially primates, elephants, dolphins and whales — species whose unusually high level of intelligence and self-awareness have been established by a growing body of scientific research. (Read our cover story "Animals are Persons Too" about the movements to get certain species of animals recognized as "nonhuman persons")

“I think that there was a lot of pressure from the animal advocacy NGOs, as well as from some members of the scientific community who said that this was not a fair way to continue. I’m sure there were a lot of things going on behind the scenes to put pressure on the NIH to release the chimpanzees,” said biopsychologist Lori Marino, founder …more

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