Salmon may be nature’s perfect food. This colorful fish is high in heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon is even show to improve mood and lower instances of depression. Its bright hues add a colorful touch to any meal. But what about GMO salmon?

In recent years, the food industry has come up with a plan to make a good thing even better. AquaBounty Technologies has developed a process of introducing a growth hormone gene that allows the fish to reach maturity much more quickly. This may seem like a win-win situation, yet there are concerns about the safety and environmental friendliness of genetically-modified foods.

salmon jumping in a river

What Are Genetically Modified (GMO) Foods?

These foods undergo a change in their DNA as a result of the insertion of genes from other organisms. A gene for the preferred characteristic (in this case, rapid maturation) introduced into the recipient’s cells results in the change becoming part of the food’s DNA. Future generations of the organism retain this modification. To enhance the desired trait in salmon, the above-mentioned promoter allows the fish to continue to grow in climate conditions in which their unaltered counterparts do not.

What Foods Are GMOs?

Such modifications are not a new or small phenomenon. For instance, the greater part of canola, soy, sugar beet, and corn grown in North America are GMOs. Crops receive this treatment to increase their resistance to insect pests and weed infestation. Salmon are the first animals to undergo genetic modification.

In an industry-changing move, AquaBounty Technologies on November 19, 2015, obtained FDA approval for the sale of AquAdvantage GMO salmon in the US. Although the agency, on their web site, states that their authorization followed intensive evaluation of corporate and expert data regarding the safety and benefits of the salmon, many consumers are unconvinced. In fact, GMO foods are banned in Europe, Africa, and Asia—even in locations where such products could provide reasonally-priced, ready-available, nutritious fare in nations with poor populations.

Dangers of GMO Salmon

Although the FDA assures that genetically modified salmon is safe for consumers, the environment, and wild populations, they do not reassure many individuals. Here are some of the typical issues:

  • GMO salmon contain 35% more of the growth hormone IGF-1 than unmodified fish. This chemical is linked to a greater risk of premenopausal breast, prostate, and colon cancer. An increase in disease rates is serious enough in itself; a significant spike in health care costs will only compound the problem.
  • AquaBounty has a monopoly on GMO salmon. The company can set its own prices without concern for competition. Even when AquaBounty’s monopoly ends, other problems can develop. New providers of GM salmon, wishing to lower costs, may not follow the safety guidelines now in place.
  • GMO salmon can escape. If they do, their increased growth rate and lower resistance to disease can adversely affect wild populations, starving out their smaller cousins and spreading pathogens. This problem will become more widespread when the above-mentioned start-up producers take control of the market.
  • Labeling GMO salmon is not law. The only way consumers know what type of product they are buying is if sellers inform them. Even vendors who know whether the salmon is genetically modified or not are understandably reluctant to tell their customers. What is more, a product that appears safe and beneficial at first (think DDT, MSG, and BPA) will very possibly turn out to be detrimental to our health and that of the environment. Requiring labels on GM salmon can only benefit consumers.

Are There Benefits for GMO Salmon?

  • Genetic modification can make salmon more affordable. As a result, the fish grows significantly more quickly and there is a greater supply on the market. In effect, those who find the cost of salmon prohibitive will be able to add this beneficial food typeto their diet.
  • The well-known perks of salmon are present here. GMO salmon is as good a source of omega 3 fatty acids and protein, and as low in calories, as the traditional variety.
  • Facilities are set away from natural populations. Thus, eggs and hatched fish are kept in secure locations. Even if fish escape, the probability of survival is low. And, since GMO salmon are all female (and shipped eggs for growing purposes are required to be 95% sterile), there is little chance of an adverse effect on wild populations.

salmon in a pile

Genetically modified salmon is probably here to stay. Even those who agree with the old margarine commercial’s last line (“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”) will have to come to terms with the altered fish’s presence in supermarkets and fish vendors’ establishments. Individuals who are understandably concerned about what the future holds will want to stay informed and make their voices heard. With cooperation between nations, the federal government, food production companies, experts, and the general public, a safe and environmentally friendly food supply will always be readily available.