Genetically Modified Salmon May Soon Land on Your Dinner Plate

By Andrew Moseman | June 29, 2010 10:06 am

Atlantic_SalmonComing soon: Salmon that grow to full size in half the time?

With all sorts of genetically modified crops on the market and in the grocery store in the United States, genetically modified animals have been the next step waiting to happen. The New York Times reports that salmon could be the first up: This year the Food and Drug Administration will weigh approval of a GM salmon created by the company AquaBounty, which could be the first GM animal eaten by Americans.

It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon. Normally, salmon do not make growth hormone in cold weather. But the pout’s on-switch keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years, though the company says the modified salmon will not end up any bigger than a conventional fish [The New York Times].

AquaBounty tried to assure everyone that it would not be creating grotesque gigantic superfish, but rather would harvest the salmon once they’ve reached “normal” size in a hurry. But those who aren’t placated by assurances have no other option at the moment: The FDA says it is reviewing the safety of GM animals the same way it would new drugs for animals, and that means silence during the process.

“There is no opportunity for anyone from the outside to see the data or criticize it,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. When consumer groups were invited to discuss biotechnology policy with top F.D.A. officials last month, Ms. Mellon said she warned the officials that approval of the salmon would generate “a firestorm of negative response” [The New York Times].

The AquAdvantage Salmon, as AquaBounty calls its Incredible Hulk of a fish, wouldn’t hit shelves for at least two to three years if it garners FDA approval. The question on many minds, though, is whether shoppers should be notified that their salmon is GM. Right now, the FDA’s presumed answer is no. Other GM products aren’t labeled unless the modification changes their nutritional content.

One thing is clear: If our eating habits don’t change, we need to do something to save salmon.

Demand has put a lot of pressure on fish populations, with no end in sight. Is a genetically altered salmon (sterile females only; raised on inland farms, not in ocean pens) part of the answer? [Dallas Morning News].

Maybe. But, as DISCOVER noted last year, even normal farmed fish that escape can harm wild populations. It’s a good thing these new ones will all be sterile so they can’t interbreed, but they seem prime candidates for unexpected consequences.

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Related Content:
DISCOVER: The Gift of Salmon
DISCOVER: Fish Farming Threatens Wild Salmon
80beats: Controversial Study Says Dams Aren’t Killing Off the Pacific Salmon
80beats: California’s Water Management Threatens Salmon With Extinction
80beats: Are Fish Farms the Answer to World Hunger or a Blight on the Oceans?
80beats: Biotech Potato Wins European Approval; May Signal a Larger Shift in GM Crops

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • mkass

    This would be another bad move to convert a food source into an intellectual property. The arguments for GM crops are actually false and the idea is really a food monopoly for Monsanto base on intellectual property laws. Doing it with fish is also, well, fishy… This would be another bad move to convert a food source into an intellectual property. The arguments for GM crops are actually false and the idea is really a food monopoly for Monsanto base on intellectual property laws. Doing it with fish is also, well, fishy…

  • April Reeves

    The Pout fish gene that promotes the gene into 24/7 activity has never been tested to see if it has the ability to move into human DNA. This is the inherent problems with GMO foods and animals: there is no long term or short term testing on humans. We are the tests! We are their guinea pigs! Should this gene get into our DNA, and in all rights it does have the possibility and capability of doing so, humans could suffer from unknown disease and complications, especially the kids. Think twice before buying anything GMO and get educated – fast.

  • mjt

    All sterile females? Where have we heard that before? Have they considered a lysine contingency too?
    April–once the meat is digested, it is broken down into it’s component amino acids and cannot be reconstituted into our bodies in the form of the pout DNA. It just doen’t work that way. Please take a couple of certified biology classes instead of relying solely on the made up rumors passed on by the anti-GM movement.
    Yes, GM foods will be patented and make loads o’ cash for the companies involved. But they put the research effort and money into finding out how to genetically improve our foods and should get some return on it. Patents run out in 20 years. The clock on that patent started ticking a minimum of 5 years ago–probably longer. They will be lucky if they have 10 years to recoup their investment. There would be zero incentive for individuals and companies to invent things if their IP rights weren’t protected.

  • deenie

    I really deplore GMO’s. They have never been proved to be safe for consumption. On the contrary, all the studies that are done by independent researchers have shown them to cause tumors, sterility, and allergies. These things may not show up in the first or second generation, but do start appearing invariably in the 3rd generation, at the latest. IMO, GMOs, along with vaccinations (another unproven remedy foisted on us by the PTB), are being done to cull the population of the “useless eaters.”

  • wshun

    @deenie: Don’t be stupid. Your so-called independent researchers are just anti-GM guys. We are going to eat the salmons to extinction, and this GM salmons at least give the natural salmons a chance.

  • YouRang

    If they’re going to modify it this far, how about increasing the production of Omega 3 FA’s? And what are they going to feed these salmon? A lot of the nutrition in salmon comes from their diet–shrimp etc.

  • Harry

    The strategy of the anti-GM and NGO shills like April is to spend their day searching for web pieces describing innovative biotechnologies that can help to feed our world, and then to create fear in the minds of the technically unsophisticated consumers by planting misinformation that to the average reader might seem credible, but to anyone with the slightest degree of knowledge, does not pass the smell test. April’s solution to the global demand for food is to nicely ask sub-Saharan Africa to do their shopping at Whole Foods!!!

  • Eliza Strickland


    on a related note, did you hear about the genetically modified soybeans that have just been approved by the Ag Dept? They’ve been tweaked to produce oil with omega-3 fatty acid. The New York Times says it’s one of the first crops to be altered for nutritional purposes.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • Keith

    I am simply amazed by the staggering arrogance and ingnorance here. Food monopolies to blatantly wrong statements made about the testing done to approve these GM foods is staggering. The great thing about the internet is that it allows knowledge to be quickly disseminated. The bad thing about the internet is that it also allows ignorance and lies to be as quickly spread.

  • B

    Since the FDA does not understand the statics and dynamics of a genetically manipulated society it is appropriate to list all genetically manipulated food items on the market including gm seeds and livestock and processed foods containing gm ingredients. A product must indicate outright that it contains – or does not contain – gm ingredients. A gene inserted into a food item or livestock with the intention of manipulation that food item’s character can pass on the modified trait to the consumer of that item .. and much more. You are what you eat ??


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