Farm-raised salmon puts a tremendous strain on the environment. It takes about 2.4lbs of wild fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring etc) to produce one pound of farm-raised salmon, that’s because salmons are carnivores. This adds to the strain placed on wild fisheries, instead of relieving it. Plus, farm-raised salmon are treated regularly with antibiotics, receiving more antibiotics than any other livestock by weight—this, in today’s world where we are already concerned with the overuse of this crucial medicine. Toxic copper sulfate is regularly added to fish farm water to keep algae under control, the fish are fed pesticides to keep sea lice at bay, and synthetic pigments to give them the pink hue we are used to seeing in wild salmon. Finally, the resulting pollution has been likened to that of cattle feed lots and chicken factory farms. It’s messy business. And it just got messier.
Now, nearly twenty years after first submitting data to the FDA, Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty Technologies has received approval to sell genetically engineered salmon to U.S. consumers. It is the first time that a genetically-altered animal has been permitted to enter the American food supply—the question is, will it be the last? The fish carry a combination of genes from other fish which allows it to grow year-round, instead of only during the warmer months. They are engineered to grow twice as fast as conventional farm-raised salmon (and up to eleven times faster than wild salmon), and can be harvested sooner reducing the amount of food each fish would consume, and care each fish would need from birth to harvest—but that wouldn’t necessarily reduce environmental impact. The farms themselves would just turn fish around in less time, but their tanks would still be full, and they would still require just as much fish food, and produce just as much pollution. AquaBounty asserts that this makes it a “sustainable” seafood source that is safe for consumption, but ‘renewable’ is not the same as ‘sustainable’. Purdue University released a statement noting that if these GE salmon were to escape into the wild, they could decimate native populations to the point of extinction; and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans suggests that despite AquaBounty’s claims that their salmon is “disease-free and antibiotic-free”, transgenic fish may in fact be more susceptible to disease than their conventional counterparts, thus making the GE species far more likely to be given high doses of antibiotics. The prevalence of antibiotics found in farm-raised fish has been an area of concern for many years.
AquaBounty has addressed the concern that fish could escape into the wild in two ways: first, the salmon are raised in land-based facilities which employ a combination of screens, filters, and additional netting to block drains and pipes that might otherwise allow any salmon to escape; and second, they focus on cultivating sterile females, which means that roughly 99% of the fish cannot reproduce. The Center for Food Safety has announced plans to sue the FDA in an attempt to block the approval for sale and consumption of AquAdvantage Salmon. In the meantime, a few stores (including Costo and Aldi) have bowed to customer pressure to not carry the product. We remain vehemently opposed to genetically engineered foods, animal or vegetable, and we continue to provide some of the cleanest and most sustainable foods in the country.
“AquAdvantage Salmon.” FDA.gov. Nov 2015.
“GE Fish Threaten Human Health.” Center for Food Safety. Nov 2015. Rack, Jessie.
“Genetically Modified Salmon: Coming to a River Near You?” NPR. June 2015.
“Sustainable.” AquaBounty Technology. 2015
“The Disadvantage of AquAdvantage.” Berkshire Organics. February 2015.
“Fish Farms Become Feedlots.” Los Angeles Times. February 2015.
“Genetically Engineered Salmon.” Salmon Nation. January 2015