FDA: genetically modified salmon safe to eat Posted on September 9th, 2010 by

On the Friday before Labor Day, the FDA released its findings that a salmon, genetically modifed to grow fast, is “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon,” according to this story in the New York Times.The fish features a growth hormone from the Chinook salmon, which is kept “turned on” by a “switch” from the ocean pout. This causes the fish to grow year round, rather than only in warm weather.

Representatives of AquaBounty, the firm that has been seeking the FDA’s approval, applauded the report (which can be found here).This clears the way for the agency to approve the fish for sale to the public. That approval is expected to come in a few weeks.

A group of 31 environmental and consumer groups, including Food and Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety, announced their opposition to the approval, citing concerns about the salmon escaping and outcompeting wild salmon for food and mating.

Many of those same organizations have criticized the FDA report, charging  that much of the data for the study came from AquaBounty, and noting that many tests were based on extremely small sample sizes. A link to the Food and Water Watch blog, which is devoting several posts to the topic, can be found here.



  1. Rich Bindell says:

    Thanks for linking to us, Lisa! -Rich, Food & Water Watch

  2. Joel L. Carlin says:

    Hello, I am an assistant professor in the Gustavus Biology Dept & the Environmental Studies program. I also work on conservation genetics, specifically in marine fisheries. So I was happy to see this post, as we fish-gene types rarely get a chance to comment on anything in the news! 🙂

    On the one hand, I can’t imagine how the transgenic fish would become infectious to anything, which is a danger in some GM plants. Some of their fears are more pointed at the lack of public input in the process, which certainly is a concern. It is amazing that as the media debate publicly emotionally symbolic issues, other issues go completely unnoticed.

    Some people are a little freaked out by an animal with 150% more DNA than normal, some of it from completely different species. Perhaps I am too used to it all, but these ideas, frankly, are old news. Triploid trout have been released into New York state’s streams for years to a public excited about fishing for these larger than normal critters. And the insertion of genes from one species into another is very old hat for science, and especially agro-science, which has done this to varying extents in a wide variety of crop plants.

    The main concern here is escapement into the environment. If they get loose will they take over?

    Not by breeding. If these fast-growing fish escape, they should be unable to breed. Organisms with an even number of chromosomes can make egg or sperm with exactly half the DNA required (so that you get the original even number again upon fertilization). Triploid fish cannot divide their 3 sets of chromosomes into two equal portions during the cell division that makes eggs or sperm, so they can never, ever make any functional eggs or sperm. Triploid fish are lonely fish!

    So they can’t breed…what about outcompeting other, regular salmonids?

    Well, this is a numbers game. If one escapes, obviously no one should be worried. If the escape includes hundreds of fingerlings (baby fish the size of, you guessed it, your little finger)…well, that is another matter. How well a new set of creatures outeat, or out-uses-available-space, an original inhabitant depends on the numbers involved. Certainly a single big child can be a bully on the playground, but s/he can’t actually prevent all the other children from growing up successfully.

    So, a single escapee is fine…what about many ‘bullies on the playground’?
    The lack of breeding means that competition between a bunch of escaped GM Atlantic salmon and native types would be restricted to a single generation. What would happen for those few years? The report by AquaBounty states how their trial runs in Panama and Canada did not have any escapes, and that the system works with proper containment. And I agree…to a point. Properly containing your animals is essential to profits in aquaculture, as it is agriculture or pet stores. But c’mon….no escapes, ever? No flood events or incompetent employees?

    Wow…this overly-long blog post reads really long…what ARE Dr. Carlin’s opinions, anyway?
    – I have no real problem with a transgenic triploid salmon as a commercial product, in theory
    – I AM concerned about the lack of public input on FDA evaluations…I think…I need to speak to a law prof on this.
    – I AM concerned that we present the public with a variety of options for eating salmon while destroying their habitat
    – I AM concerned that the commercial fish food used for feeding aquacultured animals, whether they are GM or not, is often (NOT always) at the expense of destroying marine ecosystems

    Thanks for sticking with me on this overly long blog post!

  3. Ruth Hruby says:

    When plants grow fast there is the dilution effect—so less nutritious. I learned this in growing alfalfa for my sheep. In my first experience of a drought year and old timer told me I should not worry because they would not eat as much and do just fine. They did. Will the GMO salmon be less nutritious? RBGH given to cows has given us milk that triggers tumors. Read Dr. Samuel Epstein’s (epidemiologist U of Ill, Chicago) THE POLITICS OF CANCER REVISITED