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Genetically Modified Salmon: Why I'm Not Afraid of the "Frankenfish"

Genetically modified salmon

Is genetically Modified Salmon Safe?

This week, the FDA heard two days worth of evidence in the case of whether or not genetically modified AquaAdvantage Salmon, otherwise known as “frankenfish” is safe for consumers and the environment. If the approval goes through, the salmon would be the first GM animal product to hit the market, so all eyes are on the FDA as they weigh the evidence.

The salmon has gotten a nod of approval from FDA scientists already, and most people seem to think it’s really just a matter of time until the GM fish makes its way to the supermarket.

Will it be safe for our kids to eat? From what I’ve heard so far, yes. Here’s why:

The salmon is basically your regular old salmon with two additions — a gene from a the chinook salmon for growth hormone, and a gene from another fish, the ocean pout, that allows growth hormone to work year-round, so the GM salmon will grow to market size in 18 months instead of three years.

The growth hormone in question is the same growth hormone that the salmon naturally produce (it’s not an additional or unnatural added hormone), in this case it just works all year instead of its usual pattern of shutting off in the cold weather, thanks to the ocean pout gene. So the result — the piece of fish on your plate — is for all intents and purposes identical.

The real question is, is the GM salmon safe for the environment? One of the concerns is that if they were set free in the wild, the genetically-altered salmon would disrupt the already fragile wild salmon populations. The proposal has been to keep the GM salmon in a land-locked environment only. But that doesn’t exactly get a vote of confidence from me, because what happens when someone captures a whole bunch and tosses them into open water? The way to ensure these salmon don’t mix is to make them sterile, which the scientists say they have done, but I’m curious to hear more about it as the FDA deliberates.

The concept of genetically modification doesn’t give me the heebie jeebies like it does for a lot of people — we have been messing with the DNA of lots of species for a long time now. And genetically altering crops has allowed us to cut down on pesticide use by making them resistant to pests on their own, without the use of chemicals. I’d personally rather feed my son corn with an altered piece of DNA (which has absolutely no health impact at all) than I would feed him one sprayed with pesticides.

So I think the environmental safety question is key here — and the burden of proof is on the scientists to show that this fish is safe for nature. When it comes to feeding my family, though, GM doesn’t really concern me. I’d rather spend my energy where the real health consequences are, with things like upping our vegetable intake and limiting processed foods. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

Image: Flickr/jlastras

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