08 April 2011

G for Genetically Modified Salmon

I've been craving an Einstein Bros. Nova Lox & Bagel all week. This is because I spent all of last weekend finishing an article about genetically modified salmon. If approved by the FDA, genetically modified salmon will be the first GM animal approved for human consumption. 

Benefits of genetically modified salmon:
  • More salmon can be raised, much faster (at least double the current rate)
  • The salmon will be raised in land-based systems, closer to consumers, which means lower carbon emissions due to shipping
  • Salmon may become cheaper (because they will be cheaper to produce and ship)
Who developed genetically modified salmon?
GM salmon were developed by AquaBounty Technologies, a company that modifies DNA to improve the land-based fish farming industry. AquaBounty has been working on developing faster-growing salmon, trout, and tilapia. Their genetically modified salmon is called AquAdvantage® Salmon, which are developed from Atlantic salmon.

How do they modify the salmon's genes?
Genetically modified salmon contain a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon. The same hormone is in the Chinook salmon and the Atlantic salmon. The difference is that the hormone is regulated differently in the Chinook salmon. The Chinook growth hormone gene enhances production of the growth hormone, allowing genetically modified salmon to reach maturity in half the time it takes unmodified salmon. However, they don’t grow to be any larger than the unmodified salmon.

Genetically modified salmon also contain a gene from Ocean Pout, which forces the growth hormone to be active all year, meaning the GM Atlantic salmon can be produced year-round.

The Chinook and Pout genes are inserted into fertilized, all-female Atlantic salmon eggs in a process that makes the resulting genetically modified salmon contain three sets of chromosomes, which presumably renders them infertile. This means that if they escape, they shouldn't be able to reproduce, compete with endangered wild Atlantic salmon, or mate with wild Atlantic salmon and pass the Chinook and Pout genes into the wild populations. However, the FDA indicated in September 2010 that up to 5 percent of the GM salmon may be fertile.

Factors preventing the Chinook and Pout genes from getting into the wild population:
  • All modified salmon are female
  • At least 95% of modified salmon are infertile
  • Modified salmon will be raised in land-based systems, not in the ocean

Is it safe to eat genetically modified salmon?
The short answer is that I can't tell you because I can't assure you it is safe to eat any genetically modified food. I've done a lot of research on the subject of genetically modified food over the past few years, and the only conclusion I've come to is that we're all part of a great experiment for genetically modified food safety. If you eat processed foods, you've already consumed genetically modified ingredients. At least, that's the case in America. I don't know about you other countries.

But I feel fine eating genetically modified foods. And if the FDA approves the genetically modified salmon, I'll be eating it. Anybody who wants to join me for a genetically modified bagel with lox is certainly welcome.

Note: I have no idea if Einstein Bros. would use genetically modified fish. Some restaurants are planning on refusing to buy it due to consumers' fears regarding genetically modified foods.

July 24, 2012 - Update: As far as I can determine, there is still no word on when the FDA might reach a decision on approval of the AquAdvantage® Salmon. The latest I can determine is a February 2012 article from the Huffington Post that says "There is no timeline for an FDA decision." Keep in mind that there is no set review process already in place for approval of GM food animals and approval of a GM food animal will set all sorts of precedents, so this is really a big deal.  have been unable to get an update on the status of the process from AquaBounty Technologies. 

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