FrankenSalmon. Coming Soon To A Table Near You.
In September of 2010 the FDA approved the first genetically animal safe for eating. The “product” is a genetically modified Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies, which they named AquaAdvantage Salmon (AAS). AAS can grow twice as fast as a normal salmon. This super speedy growth rate was gained by making two changes to the salmon’s genome, the addition of a growth hormone gene, and the addition of an antifreeze gene. AquaBounty see their salmon as an environmentally sustainable alternative to the current farmed salmon. AAS are to be raised in land-based facilities, which would reduce the environmental impact on coastal areas, and eliminate the threat of disease transfer from farms to wild fish. Land-based facilities would also allow people to live closer to their food facilities, reducing some of the costs associated with transporting fish. But many people are still worried about the health and environmental risks posed by genetically modified salmon.
The first worry people have about modified genetically modified salmon is “are they safe to eat?” It’s a known fact that in the United States we’ve been eating genetically modified produce for years. The main health concern with genetically modified foods is allergens. For AAS, the two proteins being introduced into the salmon’s genetic makeup are from other fish, so there’s not the same kind of worry as adding a protein from a peanut or shrimp. But there is still the worry that adding proteins will increase the number of fish allergens inside the salmon.
A bigger concern may be environmental impact if the AAS salmon are accidently introduced into the wild. AAS are designed specially for land based facilities, but precautions have also been taken to reduce their impact if they are accidently introduced into the wild. AAS salmon are all triploid females, which means that they are not only all female, but are sterilized as well. The problem with triploid induction is that there is a very small percentage of fish where the sterilization doesn’t work. There is a failure of sterilization in .1 to 1% of fish, which is a pretty small number, except fish farms usually contain 500,000 to 1 million fish. How this could impact wild fish populations is unknown. Personally this reminds me of the Movie/Book “Jurassic Park”.
Even sterilized fish may have a negative impact on wild salmon populations. AAS salmon grow faster and larger then natural salmon. This would make an AAS salmon more attractive for mating then a natural Atlantic salmon, which could negatively impact wild salmon populations.
When AAS hit the market, farming facilities need to be monitored to make sure there is no way for the salmon to accidently escape into the wild. This is especially important in areas where a salmon population is already present. AAS could be an excellent way to increase the availability of fish without impacting wild salmon populations and the coastal ecosystem but strict monitoring is needed to keep these “mutants” from causing trouble.
For further information on the AAS Salmon Controversy and further concerns check out this story from NPR: