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Friday Freakout: Genetically Modified Salmon Swims Onto Your Plate

Friday Freakout: Genetically Modified Salmon Swims Onto Your Plate

Salmon is not what it used to be. You could easily say that about all or any wild fish (especially after reading Paul Greenberg’s excellent Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food) but wild salmon, which used to be a highly plentiful wild fish, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, is now largely a farmed fish. From a conservationist perspective this is exceedingly bad, and from a consumer perspective this is unfavorable. Well things are about to get weird with our current farmed salmon stocks as the Food and Drug Administration just announced a 60-day period of consultation and public meetings over whether to permit a genetically modified (GM) strain of salmon to be sold for human consumption, even though it has been called a “frankenfish” by critics. The odds are (taking a good look at the power of the GM lobby) that this GM salmon will make it past critics and those skeptical at the FDA in less than a year, to find a home on American dinner tables nationwide.

Farmed salmon is a widely consumed and hugely popular form of seafood nationwide, and worldwide. Some estimates gauge that more than 30% of all seafood purchases in the United States are in the form of farmed salmon, and with this development, farmed salmon would have a new, somewhat tarnished, designate; as the first genetically modified animal bred for human consumption. According to an article in the New York Times from June, ” The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon.”

The AquAdvantage salmon – a modified North Atlantic salmon (which ironically is almost entirely fished out of existence) – has been created by AquaBounty Technologies in Boston, Massachusetts, and has been created/modified, not to develop a greater flavor or nutritional profile, but simply because this salmon grows at twice the speed of similar fish, cutting costs for farmers and greatly increasing production. According to information released by the company (and gleaned from the Guardian UK) the genetic modification involves taking a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and joining it with a control DNA sequence (called a promoter) from an ocean pout – an eel-like creature from a different family of marine organisms. The salmon, which normally feed only during the spring and summer months, would (thanks to this genetic upgrade) be literally switched “on” by the added pout gene, which will trigger them to feed year round. The result is, not necessarily a fatter fish, but one that grows larger and faster – considerably shortening the time to market. Translation: this development is only to benefit producers, not consumers.

Surprisingly, one of the opponents to this GM product is the International Salmon Farmers Association, which is concerned about the reaction of consumers and that it will undermine the popularity of salmon, which commands high prices in the US. Considering that the FDA still remains on the fence, as whether or not they will require the fish to be labeled “Genetically Modified,” it is fair to say that some cautious consumers may be ultimately turned off by the idea of consuming this dubbed “frankenfish.”

While the FDA has established an advisory committee of veterinarians to consider the evidence and public views on the subject of this GM seafood, and consumers have a year or so to make a stink, this will likely be a messy fight over dinner. No doubt, if this fish gets ultimately rejected this time around (this particular crossbred salmon has been 15 years in the making) it will be tinkered and tooled with and again offered up to the FDA (and the American public) for their approval a few years down the line.

This is indisputably a difficult issue, and one that has a high emotional range. Consumers, ecologists, and health professionals remain highly skeptical when it comes to genetically modified anything, and for good reason – we simply don’t know how this particular trifling with nature will impact us, as consumers, as well as the surrounding natural world. Will GM fish make consumers sick down the line? Will the GM fish infect or impact other wild fish stocks? Will this open a Pandora’s box of biological exploitation and a general sullying of our natural food systems?

Read more: Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Nature & Wildlife, , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

116 comments

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7:27PM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Franken fish does not have the nutrients that natural raised fish do. They add things just like processed foods. I will never eat it but you can go ahead. Just know that you were warned.

6:15PM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

Jane R says:
"I don't see anything wrong with these fish. I'd eat one anyday. Food is food.

Really? Do you think it's OK that these FrankenFish can (and most likely will, as human error runs rampant) destroy the real fish? Unfortunately, most people will eat, literally and figuratively, anything the government decides to feed them.

Please eat real food, support local farmers.

11:19AM PST on Dec 20, 2010

Huh...I did not know that salmon were the first GMO animal for human consumption..interesting.

6:44PM PDT on Sep 23, 2010

I do not and will never eat farmed fish.

I do not and will never eat GE fish.

My money will not make it into these mad greed mongers pockets.

Not emotional just facts.

7:03AM PDT on Sep 14, 2010

GM fish, wheat, rice, meat and everything else you can think of, will be with us to the detriment of "clean" food, sooner or later.
I think our grandkids at least, will have no idea what we were complaining about! We will all eat it!

1:07PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

I will not eat farmed salmon. I eat no red meat, and very little chicken and fish. It's wild salmon or nothing. The closer we get to genetic modified food, the less of it I'll be eating. The bible touched on this at the end of times. I guess we are closer to the end than we thought.

6:33AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

I only eat Alaskan Salmon

7:48PM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

This is one more disturbing report. I certainly don't want to eat genetically altered salmon. Has anyone considered how devastating it would be if someone inadvertently deposited these extra-hungry feeders (with DNA from pout, an eel-like creature, that eats constantly) into our rivers, streams, and oceans? Scientists these days don't necessarily have brains; few have hearts that care. They are just looking for the next government grant, and they'll dream up any concoction to win it.

5:19PM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

I don't see anything wrong with these fish. I'd eat one anyday. Food is food.

1:57PM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

Très intéressants à lire!! Merci beaucoup!

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