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FDA Approves First Genetically Engineered Salmon Facility: Now What?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved last week the first U.S. facility for production of genetically engineered (GE) salmon.

Though the facility near Albany, Indiana, has now been approved, AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. is prohibited from importing eggs necessary for producing GE salmon due to an FDA appropriations law requiring labeling of imported foods derived from “bioengineered” sources. Once the “import alert” labeling guidelines are established, the company will be given the green light to begin production of its AquAdvantage Salmon in the new U.S. facility.

These fish, approved for commercial sale by the FDA in November 2015, are the first genetically modified animals to be approved for human consumption. The FDA is not requiring the product to be labeled as genetically engineered because, as the agency —stated, the data and information evaluated show that AquAdvantage Salmon is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon.

Not everyone agrees with the FDA. AquAdvantage Salmon were created by mixing the genes of two fish that would never mate in nature. The genetically engineered salmon contains a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon, and a gene from the ocean pout, which has the intended purpose of keeping the growth hormone gene switched on. This makes the AquAdvantage Salmon grow about twice as fast as conventionally farmed salmon—it reaches adult size in 18 months rather than 30 months.

It also means that the AquAdvantage Salmon contains elevated levels of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor-1 that occurs naturally and is instrumental in normal growth during childhood, but in adulthood can promote abnormal growth, including the spread (metastasis) of cancer cells. Elevated levels of IGF-1 have been linked to colon, prostate and breast cancer.

According to a coalition of environmental groups in Canada and the U.S., the science just isn't there to prove AquAdvantage GE salmon is safe for either human health, or wild fish stocks.

Canadians became the first guinea pigs to unknowingly eat AquaBounty’s GE salmon because labels are not required in this country either. When Canada began selling the product in the summer of 2017, opposition to the “frankenfish” being sold in the U.S. escalated. Several large grocery store chains including Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Walmart, Aldi USA and Whole Foods vowed not to stock the engineered fish.

“Now that the GE salmon is somewhere unknown in our food system, grocery stores find themselves faced with a flood of customer questions and confusions,” Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, told SeafoodSource. “Without mandatory labeling of GE foods, retailers are not compelled to give their consumers this information. Without this information, consumers are shopping blind, and many are choosing not to shop for salmon.”

In addition to concerns related to GE salmon, farmed salmon is becoming known as one of the most toxic foods in the American diet today.

“Salmon farming is a disaster for the environment and human health,” according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. “Tests show farmed salmon is about five times more toxic than any other food tested.”

Farmed salmon has been linked to high toxicity levels, leading to a heightened risk for obesity and diabetes, mainly due to its pesticide, antibiotic, dioxin and PCB load—chemicals that tend to concentrate in the fatty tissues of fish. Not only that, but the practice of fish farming endangers the integrity of wild salmon and other marine species by spreading disease and contaminating coastal waters and the ocean with toxic chemicals from the feed used on fish farms.

If you think you’re saving wild salmon by eating farmed salmon, think again. As International Director of Organic Consumers Association Ronnie Cummins said in a blog post:

The now common advice from natural health experts is to avoid all factory-farm fish and larger fish (who have had more time to absorb toxins), and to consume only wild Alaskan salmon, along with smaller fish species, such as anchovies, sardines and herring.

To learn more about the best choices when it comes to eating seafood, check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which helps consumers and businesses make choices for a healthy ocean.

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.