FDA Says Genetically Modified Salmon Is Safe to Eat; Decision Looms

By Andrew Moseman | September 7, 2010 5:21 pm

Salmon SteakIn about a week and a half, officials at the Food and Drug Administration must complete their final deliberations over whether or not to approve a genetically modified salmon as the first GM animal in the world sold for human consumption.

It would seem they’re leaning toward “yes.”

Last Friday, while the country was preparing to go on vacation, the FDA released an analysis (pdf) of the transgenic salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts, declaring it safe to eat and safe for the environment.

The AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is kept active all year round by a genetic on-switch from a different fish, the ocean pout. Normally, salmon produce growth hormone only in warm weather. So with the hormone produced year round, the AquAdvantage salmon grow faster [The New York Times].

“Faster” is an understatement. A normal Atlantic salmon requires about 30 months to grow large enough so that it can be sold at market. But a GM salmon with year-round growth hormone bulks up to market size in barely more than half that time—16 months or so.

The FDA panel will meet for a few days beginning September 19, to be followed by public comment. The first part of the now-released analysis, the conclusion that the fish is safe to eat, has drawn some fire in places like The Guardian. But the second conclusion, that the fish won’t negatively affect the environment, has raised more eyebrows.

AquaBounty promises to release only sterile female eggs and to allow fish farmers to raise the GM salmon only at inland locations; as a result the FDA analysis says it’s extremely unlike the fish will escape and crossbreed with wild salmon.

But Wenonah Hauter, executive director at Food and Water Watch, a consumer-advocacy organization, disputed that conclusion.”The FDA also says that [AquaBounty's] promises are potentially misleading because up to 5% of eggs sold for grow out could be fertile,” Hauter said. “It seems very likely that there could be fertile salmon that are going to be put into commercial production.” [Los Angeles Times]

If the agency opens the door the AquAdvantage fish, they could be opening the floodgates for GM animals on the cusp.

Other genetically modified animals are waiting in the wings. They include other types of fish, cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease, and the so-called enviro-pig, which was designed to generate more ecofriendly manure. [Technology Review]

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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: Genetically Modified Salmon May Soon Land on Your Dinner Plate
80beats: Meet the Genetically Engineered Pig With Earth-Friendly Poop

Image: flickr / woodleywonderworks

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Karen

    If the FDA does not require these salmon to be labeled as genetically modified, they will ensure that I never enter a big chain grocery store again.

  • John

    This should be labeled. The FDA should at least require labeling of the ‘food’. If this company stands by its product, and I do mean its product, then they should have no qualms about labeling it. If labeling is not required I will no choice but to stop eating all salmon unless I know that it is not this new species of salmon. WHAT DO WE PAY YOUR SALARIES FOR FDA?

  • dan

    No way in the world I’m eating this stuff. Also, are we really to believe that there is no chance for the GM fish to cross breed with wild salmon? That’s pure hogwash. Unscrupulous people are not in short supply, greed will prevail. Then the last item that immediately comes to mind, what about the possibility something in these fish will pass on to humans?

    BAD IDEA!!

  • Arden

    I”m so blasted mad about this! The bleeping FDA does not have the consumer’s best interest in mind. The fact that the company producing these abnormalties does the safety testing is ridiculous! When is the FDA going to do its job and protect us from unnatural, harmful “food”?!!! Arghhhhh!

    How do we protest this? Who is taking public comments?

  • http://wshun.blogspot.com/ wshun

    If it is delicious, I don’t care if it is GM or not.

  • John

    “AquaBounty promises to release only sterile female eggs and to allow fish farmers to raise the GM salmon only at inland locations.”

    Isn’t that what the people at Jurassic Park promised? See how that turned out. RIP Nedry.

  • Ray

    This process seems very tainted. To help pressure the FDA to require labeling please consider joining the Food Bloc page on votingbloc.org. We are asking that all GM Foods be labeled so we can decide for ourselves if we want to eat these products. Here is the link:

    http://www.votingbloc.org/Food_Bloc.php

  • Gil

    So it is just producing its own natural growth hormones year round instead of half the year?

    Then what are all the people above so mad about? Sounds like they just turned a promotor on 24/7. There won’t be anything different about the fish, and if it did crossbreed with wild salmon I would imagine the offspring would starve due to the metabolic load of constant growth.

  • Angela

    Humans have been modifying animals for thousands of years. All breeds of dogs and cats, and countless other types of animals and plants, have been modified from their original genetic forms by selective breeding. This is just a more technologically advanced form of selection. They could try naturally breeding the Atlantic salmon with the Chinook salmon (if they are compatible- I don’t know) to produce the same always-on growth hormone fish, but it would likely take longer and result in a number of other hybrid salmon with combinations of characteristics. I understand the concern with Frankenfood, but at some point, I think we have to realize that we’ve been tinkering with genetics already and this is just a new way of doing the same thing.

  • kirk

    There is a glaring “evolutionary unstable strategy” to rapid growth in slow growing salmon – it requires more energy to grow rapidly than to grow slowly. Without Purina Salmon chow in abundance the GM salmon would have no obvious advantage in the wild. Just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  • Jay Fox

    @Gil:
    Reread the article. They are adding genetic material from two separate species. This is not something you can get from the selective breeding that has been going on since man first domesticated animals. It is more frankenfood. It should be labelled as such so that those of us who do not wish to participate in this flawed experiment can opt out.

    ALL GM FOOD-LIKE SUBSTANCES SHOULD BE LABELED FOR WHAT THEY ARE.

    They said GM crops could not escape the fields, and now North Dakota roads are lined with GM canola. Now they try to downplay that by saying that the plants are “weaker” and pose no threat. But they thrive next to the highway. And guess what? They can’t kill ‘em by spraying ’cause they’re engineered to resist the very thing we have to eliminate unwanted growth.

    You think no one will take one of these frankenfish and toss it live into the sea? How would you even begin to try to prevent that? It cannot be prevented. These inserted genes WILL end up in wild stocks if this is allowed.

    At least there is already a requirement that farmed fish be labeled as such. Time to stop eating ALL farmed fish, if you haven’t already done so.

  • halucijason

    Somehow it will get into the wild and then it will mix in with the normal population and then salmon in nature will die off from starvation because of there genetically modifed need for more food causing the complete collapse of the food chain. The price of gm salmon will skyrocket since that is all that will be available from fish farms…but the lack of food (from the collapse of the chain) will cause famines which will cause civil unrest…which will then lead to all out nuclear war in 50 years and it all starts right here. Cause and effect motherf*ckers… lol

  • Bystander

    Could someone please explain to me what is so terrifying about gm foods? I don’t care about this whole fright on one getting loose into the wild. I want to know what physical harm consuming them would cause. Fact please, not presumption.

  • B

    The FDA probably said ‘yes’ to drilling for oil in the Florida Gulf. And then the disaster happened. Developing native products by careful breeding is one thing, messing around with genetic material in the lab is another. Today it is known that the Florida Gulf oil disaster is the result of slavery – and slavery is the only legal term applicable to what happened in the Gulf. I have confidence that North American salmon are what they want to be. I do not believe that humans have the right to tamper with the genetic code of wildlife for selfish reasons.

  • http://www.fourfish.org Paul Greenberg

    Why are we about to create a 250 million pounds of transgenic salmon while stewarding over the destruction of 250 million pounds of wild salmon:

    http://fourfish.org/Chapterone.html
    http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=10-P13-00038&segmentID=4

  • Organicchunkysalsa

    Like other posters above the fact that this company claims that these fish will not be able to reproduce is sheer bollocks. Monsanto made the same claims about it’s genetically modified super crops and now their seeds are growing and cross pollinating with wild plants. Who is to say this company won’t be standing on the shores of lake superior ten years from now checking the fish fishermen are bringing in and charging them for each fish that has their patented DNA?

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