Coming 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.
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