GMO Salmon just approved by the FDA

In an unfortunate, yet not surprising, turn of events on Thursday, the FDA approved GMO salmon (genetically engineered) for human consumption in the US. This is the first such altered animal allowed for human consumption and critics are concerned that the fish may cause human allergies and decimate the natural population if they escape into the wild and breed.

“There’s no place on our dinner plates for genetically engineered fish,” said Lisa Archer of the environmental advocacy group, Friends of the Earth.

The salmon, called Advantage Salmon, are engineered by a Massachusetts-based company- AquaBounty. They grow twice as fast as normal salmon due to an added growth hormone taken from a breed of salmon called the Pacific Chinook. This addition allows the fish to produce growth hormones all year long; engineers were able to do this by using another gene from an eel-like fish, the Ocean Pout, which acts like an “on” switch for the hormone.

Answering critics fears, the company says that they will not only inspect the facilities (as will the Canadian and Panamanian governments) but that there are, “‘multiple and redundant levels of physical barriers’ in the facilities to prevent the escape of fish.” The fish will be bred to be female and sterile so that if any do escape they would not be able to breed. However, that just makes me think of the quote from the first Jurassic Park film, “Life will not be contained, life breaks free…life finds a way.”

While the salmon faced opposition with both Congress (Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. vehemently opposed the fish due to its potential to harm the states wild salmon industry) and the current FDA administration, amid understandable consumer concern, after 5 years they were ready to declare it “safe” for humans. The Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine stated that they had “thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information” submitted by AquaBounty. Although we don’t find any of this story comforting, the FDA has at least released guidelines for retailers that want to label the salmon as “engineered”.

But even that is mere formality as the FDA sees the GMO salmon as having no material differences between the natual fish and therefore, labeling isn’t technically necessary. Should retailers decide they do not want to label the fish, once the salmon reach stores, consumers may not even know they are eating the “frankenfish”, as some are calling them. Due to pressure from activists who oppose genetically modified foods, various retailers have pledged not to sell the salmon and it is unclear whether the public will have an appetite for the fish.

At this point is seems your safest route is to avoid salmon altogether. When are we going to wake up and see what we are doing to our planet and to ourselves?