salmon that made waves by catching
the attention of the Monterey Bay
Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
Salmon has held the No. 3 spot on the National Fisheries Institute’s “Top 10
Consumed Seafoods” since 2001.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED SALMON—
“FRANKENFISH” OR SOLUTION?
For nearly a decade, Waltham, Mass.-based biotech company AquaBounty
Technologies had been seeking U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for
an Atlantic salmon that it had genetically
modified to boost its productivity. The
company enhanced the fish with a growth
hormone from a Chinook salmon, and
added a genetic “on switch” from an ocean
pout. The result? This super-salmon can
grow to maturity in 16-18 months, rather
than the typical three years needed for
traditional farm-raised Atlantic salmon.
But not everyone is embracing the fish.
Stories about the “frankenfish” have been
ricocheting across the Internet since the
FDA announced that approval was likely.
modified salmon will reach final approval
is uncertain. The gathering in September
was a nonvoting meeting, and the FDA
panel did not reach consensus or offer
“There is no timeline on a decision on the
application,” says Sebastian Cianci, FDA
spokesperson. “We will first look at all the
comments submitted by the public, as well
as the suggestions from the panel. Before
releasing a decision on the application,
FDA will also publish an Environmental
Assessment with a 30-day comment period.”
In early September 2010, the FDA’s
briefing report said scientists “have found
no biologically relevant difference between
[the AquaBounty salmon] and conventional
Atlantic salmon based on the criteria
evaluated.” To many, the fish appeared to
be on the fast-track to approval.
George Leonard, director of Washington,
D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy’s
aquaculture program, says what’s most
interesting about the fish isn’t the genetic
modification, but whether or not the FDA
will grant its approval. “They’ll be making
a fundamental decision about the future
of our fish that really gets at whether we
want genetically farmed fish to be an
integral part of our food supply. This is
a decision that requires national debate,
and not a conversation behind closed
doors at the FDA.”
Scientists suggested caution about the
pending FDA decision.
AquaBounty’s position is that global
demand for animal protein will skyrocket by
2020 and the genetically modified salmon
will help fill that need. The company says
the population of genetically modified
salmon will be made up of sterile females
grown in closed-containment tanks, which
would effectively eliminate the risk of
escapement or accidental reproduction.
It also says those closed-containment
systems will allow the fish to be grown
closer to dense, urban populations.
Reaction to the fish has been intense, says
Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst for The
Center for Food Safety, Washington, D.C.,
which opposes approval of the genetically
modified salmon. “We got 172,000 people to
send in comments in 10 days. That’s almost
unheard of,” Hanson says.
“The decision in front of the FDA today has
ramifications of where we will be five, 10, 40
years from now when it comes to genetically
modified animals,” says Leonard. “The FDA
needs to do a full environmental assessment
on this salmon. The one that was done by
the company itself is insufficient.”
A main criticism of the fish is that the study
sizes (which ranged from six to 60 fish)
were too small to yield accurate results.
Environmentalists are also concerned that
lack of labeling requirements will prevent
consumers from being able to identify
the fish at stores. Whether the genetically
FARM-RAISED SALMON GOES
On the opposite coast, a less controversial
but no less revolutionary salmon is being
grown by AquaSeed Corp. in Seattle.
But before we dive in, let’s take a brief
salmon-background detour. Wild salmon