What You Need To Know About GMO Salmon

11/23/2015 05:49 EST | Updated 11/23/2016 05:12 EST

By now, you've probably heard about the latest GMO product that will be coming to a store near you (in about two years)... salmon. The FDA has just approved the sale of this salmon as food, so what do you need to know about it?

My gut reaction to the first genetically modified animal produced for consumption was like many peoples'; a bit of disgust with whole lot of 'why'!?. Before I wrote this piece though, I wanted to be able to give you all the relevant information about the 'frankensalmon' so you can form your own opinion about it. Here are what I consider to be the main things that you should understand about this new product:

This salmon will not be labeled as 'GMO'. It will be sold as 'Atlantic salmon' under the AquAdvantage label (AquaBounty is the company producing the salmon). There is no mandatory labeling of this fish as genetically modified. I don't know, I'd like to know what I'm buying, wouldn't you?

The genetic material of the fish is modified by adding genes from Chinook salmon and other fish to Atlantic salmon. This creates a salmon that grows bigger, faster -- which is, from what I can see, the main point of making GMO salmon. Bigger fish faster. More fish faster equal more money. I'm really refraining here from making a snide comment about this fact, so let's move on.

Is this salmon any different nutrition-wise from non-GMO salmon? Not as far as we know.

Is the salmon safe to eat? Maybe. This is a hotly contested, sensitive, polarizing topic with research on either side to prove that GMO food is or is not safe. For now, the FDA is declaring that GMO foods, including this salmon, are safe to eat. Whether or not you believe them, is up to you.

What about the environmental implications? Some people are afraid that if this GMO salmon gets into the wild somehow -- by breaching its tanks, which does happen -- it will genetically contaminate the wild salmon stocks. This is entirely possible, even though AquAdvantage denies that it's likely. The fish are going to initially be farmed inland, but plans are in place to open more farms in other countries such as the United States. AquAdvantage's take on environmental implications is that the fish grow faster, and therefore need less feed/will cause less contamination to the environment. But does the cost to the environment of running more fish farms cancel out that need for less feed?

The salmon eggs will be produced on Prince Edward Island and then exported to fish farms in Panama to grow into fish.

The public was not consulted at all with regards to this whole process -- which isn't surprising, since the public isn't consulted for most major decisions regarding agriculture/aquaculture. However, this is the first time that animals for consumption are being genetically modified, so many people believe that this decision should have involved the public in some way.

My overarching sentiment regarding this whole situation is one of cynicism. Do we really need to be genetically modifying animals for consumption? Isn't this sort of like growing a hamburger in a petri dish? I love progress and I'm not afraid of change, but I don't think nature messed up when it was creating salmon. They grow at the rate they're supposed to, and there's enough controversy about farmed fish to begin with. Yes, having more fish in the world will mean that people who couldn't previously afford to eat salmon will now be able to get it at a less expensive price. But is this really a good reason to genetically modify an animal and sell it in stores? Even putting aside the uncertainly we have about GMOs (and don't send me hate mail, I do buy some GMO products so I'm not 100% against them) and the environmental implications for a second, isn't this all about money? It seems to me like a slightly shady, gross use of resources to produce something that's not truly needed.

AquAdvantage salmon will probably be in stores in the next two years or so. Many stores, including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, are already saying that they won't carry it.


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