salmon-underwater-swimWhat happens when Atlantic salmon is spliced with genes from Pacific chinook salmon and a spooky looking fish from the eel family called the ocean pout? You get a super-fish called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” The advantage being — this hybrid critter grows like gangbusters. Instead of maturing in 3 years, it can be brought to the table in 18 months.

AquaBounty, the small biotech company that developed this GM (genetically modified) salmon, has been seeking FDA approval for it since 1995 and a recent FDA statement pronouncing the salmon safe to eat has brought the company closer to their goal. Final approval from regulators could be reached as early as this summer. If and when that happens, the salmon will be the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption, joining GM plants like soy and corn that have been altered to withstand harsh insecticides.

Detractors have criticized the study AquaBounty submitted to the FDA, claiming the test samples were too few in number to adequately study possible allergic reactions. But the loudest criticism centered on environmental risks. What if these “Frankenfish” escaped their farming tanks and start breeding with wild salmon?  No way that could happen, says company CEO, Ron Stotish. For one thing, the GM salmon will be raised in inland tanks, far away from wild salmon. The company’s web site also claims the fish (all female) are “reproductively sterile.” Less emphatic, however is a Guardian article that quotes Stotish as saying the company’s genetic technology ensures that more than 98% of its salmon can’t reproduce. And it’s this tiny 1% of salmon who Stotish himself admits will be able to reproduce that concerns critics. Their possible escape could endanger and eventually overpower the entire wild salmon population.

Consumers don’t seem eager to welcome these genetically altered fish into their kitchens either. A Washington Post, autumn poll reported that 58% of respondents had no intention of chowing down on GM salmon. This was a far more positive number than a European Commission survey that reported 77% of Europeans wouldn’t touch GM food of any kind.

On the other side of the aisle are these facts: Salmon is an extremely popular fish. Their popularity continues to increase as their population in the wild steadily decreases. At one time in the Northwest, 20 million salmon returned every year to their Columbia River spawning grounds. That number has shrunk to barely a million in some years.

Also, the global aquaculture business dominated by Europeans now totals $107 billion bucks a year. Top Dog Norway produces 7 times more farm salmon than second-place Britain and 53 times more than the United States, a fact that Stotish calls “a national embarrassment.”  Once approved and bred, GM salmon coming to maturation twice as fast as conventional salmon could turn the economic tables for the US in this ever growing market.

A final cautionary note on these “newfangled fish” was sounded in the New York Times by Timothy Egan who warned about putting our blind trust in the “gods of technology.” These high tech gods have failed us in the past at Chernobyl, Fukushima and a deep-water drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Will messing with Mother Nature to the tune of creating genetically altered salmon pitch us into dangerous future waters?

Interestingly, in the many articles about GM salmon, only one person has mentioned the taste of this revolutionary fish and that was the CEO who said (surprise) it tasted great.

Would you have any problems with eating this GM salmon?

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