Canadians Are First to Sample Genetically Modified Salmon

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 10, 2017 4:05 pm
(Credit: Aristokrates/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Aristokrates/Shutterstock)

After a protracted fight, salmon have become the first genetically modified animal to be sold in stores.

The salmon, implanted with genes that boost their growth, come from the U.S.-based biotech firm AquaBounty Technologies, which has been attempting to gain regulatory approval for their product for some 25 years. Last week, AquaBounty announced it had indeed sold salmon fillets to customers in Canada after receiving regulatory approval in 2016, though it isn’t clear where they were sold.

They were approved here by the FDA in 2015 after extensive testing to ensure safety, a move that led almost immediately to a lawsuit against the regulatory agency on behalf of a consumer advocacy group. It has since blocked sales until guidelines for labeling can be established.

Enhanced Growth

AquaBounty’s salmon possess two extra genes. One, from chinook salmon, promotes growth, and another, from ocean pout, acts as a kind of switch to keep the gene active. Salmon normally only grow during certain seasons, but these continue to develop year-round. This allows them to reach maturity in around 18 months, as opposed to 28 or more for normal salmon. Tests by the FDA and Canadian regulatory agencies revealed no potential dangers from ingesting the fish. Nevertheless, two Canadian grocery store chains have pledged not to sell the GMO salmon, and Vigilance OGM, an environmentalist group, protested the use of Canadians as “guinea pigs.”

The more salient risks from the fish are those of environmental contamination. Some groups hold that the fish could pose a threat to wild populations of salmon, should they escape and interbreed with native populations. AquaBounty says that all of it’s fish are bred to be sterile and are raised in indoor vats away from natural habitats, making any crossbreeding extremely unlikely.

GMO’s Abound

Genetically modified products are already common in supermarkets, however, in the form of GMO fruits and vegetables and in many processed foods. Soybean oil, corn starch and other common food ingredients have been genetically engineered for years, mostly to make them more resistant to disease or to pesticides. In addition, papayas, milk, and other common products have also been genetically modified in some way. These crops have quietly become part of our diets, although there is still a push for mandatory labeling of GMO products, and the same could happen for modified animals.

The move could also be a boon for wild salmon, who are dangerously overfished at the moment. Faster-growing salmon from fish farms would take the pressure off of populations in the wild and allow them to recover. How genetically-modified salmon will alter the practice of fish farming remains unclear, however. Aquaculture involves the use of certain toxic chemicals and antibiotics, which can leach into water supplies, and other wild fish are sometimes used as feed, threatening their numbers.

AquaBounty’s new salmon are projected to require 25 percent less feed than normal salmon, but the environmental effects of the fish farms they are raised on remain unclear. The genetic modifications won’t contribute directly to hazardous runoff, but increases in aquaculture as a whole could pose a problem if not properly managed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Remove the four parens, one line


    I envision an exceptionally well-fed test population that cannot disappear into the general public. Earn your way in.

  • Kate K

    There are half a dozen major adaptions that could be made to make farmed fishing better. the resistance in Europe to GMO is anti science movement, and actually is creating a lot of harm.

    What the heck do people think a chicken is? That was a genetic modification to go around normal egg laying and growth cycles — done by humans — millennia ago. Your “natural” chicken making the eggs on your plate never existed in the wild. Its ancestor only layed eggs seasonally. Is selecting over and over until you have a chicken that lays eggs all the time somehow more benign than looking at it at a genetic level and applying science?

    1) GMO reduces chemical traetment of farmed fish
    Right now both heavy legal and also illegal use anti-parasitic and unapproved or high dose antibiotics mean a humans are consuming more of these in those chemicals in non-GMO farmed fish, and b) the pathogens and parasites are likely to get more and more resistant.
    GMO switching to enhance disease resistance in the more dense pens would mean less use of anti-parasite and antibiotic.

    2) GMo farmed fish can be made to have higher concentrations of healthy fats

    3) They can be made to grow faster and consume lower impact foods.

    People opposed to GMO seem to think use of GMO occurs in a vacuum. It does not. GMO lentils consume 25% to 40% less water and less fertilizer per ton produced. Less insecticide is used with GMO as well.

    Do we really think we are going to feed ten billion people without eitehr gMO? the only way to do so without GMO to vastly increase water usage, pesticide usage, etc.

    Luddites don’t get that they human is a technology based animal

    • hyperzombie

      What the heck do people think a chicken is?

      The wild breadless ones or the wild breaded ones that are shaped like mcnuggets?

      Eggs come from some factory that is why at Easter you can get them in chocolate.

  • NetMeg

    No wonder humans are becoming a changing species.

  • mem_somerville

    Oh, adding the link to Monterey Bay Seafood Watch’s rating for Atlantic salmon in tank systems put that comment into moderation. So you’ll have to look yourself. It’s “best choice”.

    And when you click “best choice” item you can get their report on recirculating systems. This doesn’t even account for reduced feed usage that the fast-growing fish need, so I hope that’s a better-than-best-choice decision.

  • flowerchild1963

    Arguments on both sides have merit. Is it too much to ask that GMO plants, animals and products made from them be labeled as such? Most of us just want to know what we’re buying.

  • vm0404

    Okay so the gene makes the salmon increase growth hormone production.
    But normal salmon already makes the hormone. If the extra hormone is the thing thought of as dangerous, why isnt eating larger amounts of normal salmon considered dangerous since eating more salmon gives you the same extra amounts of hormone????


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