Effective November 19, 2015, the FDA published their approval for genetically engineered / GMO salmon. This landmark decision represents the first time that a GMO animal has been approved for consumption by the FDA.
The GMO salmon are a product of AquaBounty Technologies and are being referred to as AquAdvantage Salmon. AquaBounty has been pushing for the approval since the 1990’s.
What is a GMO Salmon?
These GMO salmon have had their DNA engineered to grow at nearly double the rate of their farm-raised counterparts. The new creature started with Atlantic salmon. Scientists then introduced a growth hormone from Chinook salmon. To activate the growth hormone, AquaBounty then added genetic coding from Ocean Pouts found off the coast of New England. The genes from the Pouts combined with the genes from the Chinook makes the new animals grow at twice the rate experienced in nature.
AquaBounty has expressed that the GMO salmon can reach their market weight in 18 – 20 months, versus 28 – 36 months for farmed salmon.
Health Concerns of GMO Salmon
Current salmon farming practices are typically considered unsustainable. The animals frequently have higher concentrations of toxins in the cells than wild salmon due to the nature of how they are contained in the same water. GMO salmon in theory would grow at twice the rate resulting in a lower amount of time for toxins to build up. It is not known however, if the accelerated growth rate causes other health concerns.
The FDA issues that their decision to approve the GMO salmon was based on the following:
They concluded the fish was safe for consumption.
Genetic modifications did not harm the animals.
The company was able to prove that the modifications resulted in accelerated growth rates.
AquaBounty was able to demonstrate that the altered fish was as nutritious as farm-raised fish.
Data provided by AquaBounty and not independently confirmed.
There are countless opponents to the creation of GMO salmon. Opponents of the fish are in part concerned with the potential impact to the environment should any of these animals escape to the wild. The scientists at AquaBounty say they have addressed this by ensuring all GMO salmon produced are sterile females (yes, this is the same way Jurassic Park ensured their population didn’t spread to the wild). It’s important to point out that the FDA is only requiring 95% of the fish to remain sterile while leaves an exposed risk from the other 5%.
A study was conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries where Coho salmon were introduced to a growth hormone similar to what is being done here. In the Canadian study, the affected Coho salmon became highly aggressive and resorted to cannibalism. The end result was a devastating drop in wild populations.
It’s simply too early to draw any real conclusions about the human health impacts; but here’s what we can say so far. It is expected that the first release of GMO salmon for sale will be in 2017 according to AquaBounty statements. Once in the food supply, Federal officials are not requiring their product to be labeled as a GMO salmon. This is unfortunately consistent with the FDA stance of not requiring a GMO label on any food products.
As for the environmental impacts, those could be devastating to existing populations if fertile fish make it to the wild. AquaBounty has expressed that their intent is to create GMO fish farms all over the globe, so this may be more a matter of when and not if.
Finally, grocery store chains have expressed differing responses to how they intent to handle GMO salmon. Kroger, Target, Whole Foods, and Safeway for example have all explicitly refused to sell the fish. Costco on the other hand is still openly considering the sale. Another concern would be not knowing what restaurants may be serving the GMO salmon.
You need to figure out what works for your family; but as for our family, we’re going to take a pass on GMO salmon when it hits the shelves.