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Genetically Modified Salmon: Everything You Need to Know

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Food Safety page, and our Information on Fish & Sustainability page.

Taking inspiration from the dozens of faux Q&As sent to me throughout the year by the PR departments of the corporate food world, I thought I would produce my own Q&A about corporate food's most recent contribution-the AquaBounty AquAdvantage™ salmon.

Q: AquaBounty calls the AquAdvantage™ an "advanced hybrid" fish and the company's president Ronald Stotish said recently on CNN that there is not "any material difference between the AquaBounty salmon and an Atlantic salmon." Is this fish an Atlantic salmon? And is it a hybrid or a genetically modified animal?

A: The AquAdvantage™ salmon is an Atlantic salmon with a Chinook salmon growth gene inserted into its DNA. In addition, a regulator protein from a fish called an ocean pout has been added to the Chinook growth gene turning the gene permanently in the "on" position.  It is a genetically modified animal.

Q: Does it grow very fast?

A: Yes, very fast. Twice as fast as an unmodified salmon.

Q: Isn't that a little uncomfortable for the fish?

A: Probably. In fact, experiments with artificially accelerating growth in terrestrial animals have been known to cause crippling skeletal deformations. Fish, however, float, and can endure some of the negative effects of precocious growth. But in the end we do not know how much these fish will suffer.

Q: But is the AquAdvantage™ salmon safe to eat?

A: According to the Center for Food Safety, AquaBounty has tested a total of 12 fish for allergens and other potential human health risks. AquaBounty claims they have tested 30 fish. If the number really is 12, most statisticians say this is too small a sample size to be statistically valid. Whatever the number of fish, the individuals tested were not grown in Panama, the location where AquaBounty plans to produce their fish. This, the Center for Food Safety asserts, is a violation of testing standards set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration. 

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