Sunday, September 26, 2010

GM Salmon

The new GM salmon may finally be approved.

The FDA is currently holding public hearings to discuss whether this particular breed should be approved for human consumption. These fish just might be our first genetically engineered livestock.

The Massachusetts company, AquaBounty Technologies, has been trying to get this fish approved for a decade but apparently only now has produced all the safety data that the FDA requires. The AquAdvantage(R) Salmon has two transgenic sequences: a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and an "on switch" (I assume a promoter) from an ocean pout (an eel-like fish). With this Chinook hormone gene turned on all the time, the transgenic Atlantic salmon grows to full size in 18 months instead of the normal 3 years. If approved, it'll be in your grocery store in 2-3 years.

I really enjoyed the discussion of this fish on KQED's Forum. The case for safe consumption seems pretty clear cut to me. According to the experts on the show, there's no significant compositional difference between the transgenic and wild type fish (aside from higher hormone levels, which aren't active on human cells and are broken down during digestion anyway).

There was also a lot of discussion over the potential environmental impact that an accidental release could have on wild populations (though it seems that extra-fast growth in the absence of extra food would be pretty maladaptive). Either way I was very happy to hear these fish would be raised inland in aquaculture ponds. Traditional ocean farming of non-transgenic salmon seems to be an awfully environmentally destructive practice and I'm looking forward to some alternatives. Feeding our population with hunted creatures is not a very sustainable practice and raising predatory ones in polluting and parasite-infested pens is not a great solution. Maybe their next goal can be to turn these fish into vegetarians...

California closed the recreational salmon season the year I left. This family of fish is pretty incredible (especially on the Pacific coast of the states) and I'd love to see our citizens do what it takes to restore them (and their streams) to a fraction of their original grandeur. I've cut way back on my fish consumption and I'm looking forward to a good reason to reverse this.

Maybe if GM aquaculture takes off, the only Salmonids that will be harvested from the ocean will be hatchery brats.*

*Yeah, I know people claim the Alaskan wild salmon fishery is sustainable, but the few bright spots in commercial fisheries can't produce enough seafood for everyone.


  1. Hey, thanks for posting this! I've been meaning to do some research on this, but have been busy with other things. All I hear from everyone else is whining about frankenfish. A question: someone did bring up the issue that certain nutrients in wild-caught fish aren't present in farmed fish. Is there any truth to this? And would this apply to farmed fish in general, or gm fish specifically? Thanks.

  2. glad to help!

    They made some comment about omega-3 fatty acids (the super hip nutrient of the moment) being lower in the GM salmon (because all farmed salmon have lower levels than wild fish).

    I think the US market is super ripe for some GM "high nutrient" crops and animals. It's only a matter of time...

  3. GM food production was botched from the start, simply from a PR standpoint. If the first products that hit the shelves were ones that consumers wanted (for example, caffeine-free coffee, or allergen-free peanuts) consumers would have tolerance for the technology in cases that aid the grower (BT-corn and fast-growing fish).

    We need GM-food if we want to feed the world's billions in a manner that doesn't destroy the planet. But we have to be mindful to the way the public-at-large perceives things they don't understand.

  4. I ABSOLUTELY agree, Bbq Dude. I'm sure Monsanto's been kicking themselves for that misstep, too. I've heard a lot studies/anecdotes about people being extremely receptive to GM food when the engineered trait is something the consumer, himself, actually cares about - e.g. more nutrients, longer shelf life. The big companies are getting close to releasing some varieties with these properties (e.g. "healthy" frying oils"), so it'll be interesting to see how people react to them...

  5. Hey Mat, have you heard anything about the "enviropig"? I would love to hear your thoughts on that.



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