GMO Salmon, unfortunately, has been approved by the FDA. And this genetically modified fish is now available in your grocery store.
On November 19, 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Aqua Advantage salmon, a genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption. However, in a court ruling issued on November 5, 2020, a Federal court declared GE salmon unlawful. Read the court ruling here. The ruling said in approving GE salmon, the Food and Drug Administration violated the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
It also declared that the FDA’s unilateral decision that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong. The FDA must now thoroughly analyze the environmental consequences of an escape of genetically engineered salmon into the wild.
Labeling of Genetically Engineered Salmon
This genetically engineered salmon is the first GMO animal to reach American grocery stores. However, there is no way to know if the fish you would like to purchase is genetically engineered.
Genetically modified salmon is often labeled Atlantic Salmon with no indication on the label that it was genetically engineered.
GMO salmon are modified with genes from different fish species. One produces extra growth hormone and the other fish produces an antifreeze hormone. These modifications result in a fish that grows larger and twice as fast as non-engineered salmon.
Real or Frankenfish?
Critics have pressured retailers to reject the salmon, which they have labeled “Frankenfish.” They worry it could cause human allergies and the eventual decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes into the wild.
In industrial agri-business, one way to increase profits is to reduce costs. Faster growth from altering an animal’s genetic material is one way to do that. But genetic engineering raises complex questions for ecosystems and consumers. Genetically modified (GM) salmon were patented by Canadian scientists who took a gene that regulates growth hormones in Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter, the equivalent of a genetic ‘on-off’ switch, from an ocean pout and introduced them into the genetic structure of an Atlantic salmon.
This modification gave the Atlantic salmon a year-round appetite enabling it to reach market size faster than other farmed salmon.
A company called AquaBounty uses these GM fish to produce salmon eggs at its research hatchery on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The company ships the commercially produced eggs to Panama, where the fish are grown in a land-based facility.
What’s the problem?
Genetic modification (also called genetic engineering or rDNA technology) is a controversial technology that allows for the transfer of genetic material directly from one organism to another (across the species and kingdom barriers) at the molecular level, and is dramatically different from animal breeding, posing new risks and unpredictable impacts on the organism and ecosystems.
There is a lack of independent science on these GM salmon, including long-term trials studying the potential health risks. Neither the U.S. nor Canadian governments have done any safety testing and rely solely on studies done by the company. There are concerns that the sample sizes used to assess the AquaBounty fish are inadequate to determine human health and safety risks.
The FDA is currently examining the GM salmon through its process for reviewing new animal drugs because, as yet, there is no approved process for reviewing the safety of GM animals. The sale of GE fish to American shoppers is being hotly contested in the U.S. through a variety of senate, congressional, and state bills currently under debate. Information courtesy of livingoceans.org
The Current State of Salmon
On the east coast, of the New England rivers in which Atlantic salmon runs were historically found, only 16% currently support salmon. The remaining populations are so low that all U.S. Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered.
The situation is no better on the west coast. The National Marine Fisheries Service has listed the following Pacific salmon and steelhead Evolutionarily Significant Units and Distinct Population Segments as threatened or endangered.
The scattered remaining healthy Pacific salmon fisheries, such as those in Bristol Bay, Alaska, constitute some of the best, and most valuable, remaining wild fisheries on earth.
Choose Wild-Caught Salmon
If you want wild-caught salmon, you want Pacific salmon. That’s not because wild-caught Atlantic salmon wouldn’t be fabulous, but the Atlantic salmon sold commercially are all farm-raised. Wild-caught Pacific salmon are typically considered to be the healthiest salmon.
Since you’re here, you may like our post: Mad Cow Disease Still Killing Humans.