Hot in recent headlines is the FDA’s approval of the genetically engineered AquAdvantage Salmon. It is the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption. The company AquaBounty has created Atlantic salmon that grow twice as fast as wild salmon by incorporating genes from Chinook Pacific Salmon and the Ocean Pout that affect growth hormone production.
AquaBounty says it is introducing “the world’s most sustainable salmon.” Claims on its website include:“Total control of the water coming in and going out allows for removal of wastes (sludge) and recycling of greater than 95% of the water used, and water discharges that can be used by other enterprises such as hydroponic produce farmers.” “When farmed in land-based facilities close to major metropolitan areas, AquaBounty’s salmon will travel only a short distance to the consumer…AquaBounty’s salmon will have a carbon footprint that is 23 to 25 times less.” “Our AquAdvantage Salmon grows to market-size using 25 percent less feed than any Atlantic salmon on the market today. This makes an already efficient protein producer even better because it requires less wild fish to be converted into salmon feed.“
“ignored millions of Americans and more than 40 members of Congress who have expressed vocal opposition. The FDA also neglects the concerns of more than 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants.”
These parties are concerned about environmental violations, potential contamination of wild salmon populations, and the unknown long-term effects on human health.
AquaBounty claims it isn’t possible for its salmon to mix with wild populations as it only breeds sterile females in landlocked facilities. However, Friends of the Earth points out in NPR that the facility on Prince Edward Island, Canada where the eggs are first grown are beside an estuary and the maturation facility in Panama is beside a river.
AquaBounty has already been fined in Panama for environmental violations and has had a storm-related security incident that led to “lost” salmon. As for the assured sterility of the fish, the Center for Food Safety questions this reporting that “fish are known to change sex, particularly under stress, and there is no guaranteed method to produce 100% sterility. According to data the company [AquaBounty] submitted to the FDA, several research trials did not achieve complete sterilization: 6 out of 20 lots were found to have less than complete sterilization.”
The story for consumers is that currently there is no requirement for AquAdvantage salmon to be labelled in stores. Also, AquaBounty says it already has genetically engineered Tilapia and Trout in the works for commercial production.
This gm-salmon debate is far from over. In the meantime, everybody’s got a part to play. For us, even though we don’t carry fresh meat products, as a food company we hope to stimulate change by standing firm in our Non-GMO Policy and helping other companies create their own policies.
And the power of consumers to affect wider change should not be underestimated. In response to consumer opinion, major food retailers such as Costco, Target, Safeway and Whole Foods, and restaurant chains such as Red Lobster have committed to not carrying genetically modified salmon. People are also speaking up about what matters to them by signing online petitions.
Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Will the AquAdvantage salmon improve or damage our food system? As events develop, what part will you play? What’s next?