Are We Ready For Genetically Engineered Fish?

01/03/2013

Gm salmon photo

The USDA may be growing closer than ever to approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption. The agency said that it could not find a valid scientific reason to ban the production of genetically modified Atlantic salmon, according to The Independent

The genetically modified salmon is engineered with extra genes from two species of fish which make it grow two times faster than traditional wild salmon and non-genetically modified farm-raised salmon. 

Land-Based Fish Farms

Proponents say that AquaAdvantage’s genetically modified salmon could make it easier and cheaper to produce farmed salmon that can be grown on land-based fish farms.

This fish was originally invented in 1989 by Aqua Bounty who began microinjecting a fragment of DNA from the ocean pout fish and the Chinook Pacific salmon into a fertilized Atlantic salmon egg, according to The Independent.

The FDA completed its environmental assessment in May of 2012. The assessment sought to clear up fears that the genetically modified salmon could escape as well as whether interbreeding with wild salmon was a practical concern.

According to the FDA: “The likelihood of escape is extremely small due to the multiple containment measures at the sites of egg production and grow-out.” And even if they did escape, the agency claimed survival was unlikely, and additionally, interbreeding would be impossible.

“The genetically engineered salmon are all-female, triploid fish that cannot reproduce among themselves or with wild or escaped domesticated, non-genetically engineered salmon,” said the FDA.

Not So Fast

However, environmental groups including Food and Water Watch are not so convinced. 

“AquaBounty has claimed that they will raise their fish in land-based facilities where ocean escapes are impossible, but what about the masses of corporations that will no doubt race to produce genetically modified fish in the crowded open ocean facilities they already utilize for fish production? If the FDA approves genetically modified fish, these fish will likely escape from their floating ocean pens (millions of salmon currently escape from them every year). Furthermore, even if a company promises to produce sterile fish incapable of interbreeding with the wild population, fast growing genetically modified fish can easily outcompete wild fish for natural resources.”

Health Concerns

From a health perspective, the concerns are a bit less proven as this will be the first genetically modified animal sold for human consumption making it difficult to study the long term impact of a modified species. 

According to Food and Water Watch:

The FDA’s tests (historically used to determine if a non-genetically modified food was safe) were created before genetically modified products became a reality and are insufficient in determining the long-term, unforeseen consequences of the genetically modified salmon in question. Put simply, these dated tests cannot determine the salmon’s full allergenicity and toxicity.

Perhaps the most major issue, however, is that U.S. consumers are ill-informed about what they're eating because genetically modified foods are not labeled as such. This is not the case in Europe and nearly 30 other countries.

According to GMO Compas"[In Europe] all food products that make direct use of genetically modified organisms at any point in their production are subjected to labelling requirements, regardless of whether or not [the] genetically modified content is detectable in the end product."

This is not the case in the U.S. where genetically modified salmon consumers will not be informed about what they're eating.

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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