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Q
Is Genetically Modified Salmon Safe?

What do you think of genetically modified salmon?

A
Answer (Published 9/23/2010)

The FDA is considering approval of genetically modified (GM) salmon that grows at twice the rate of normal salmon. According to The New York Times, the company that developed the fast-growing fish has submitted all the data the FDA has required to determine whether GM salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment.

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I discussed this issue with Randy Hartnell, president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, which I've often recommended as a preferred source of sustainably harvested wild Alaskan salmon (and other seafood). Here are his thoughts:

"Faster-growing genetically modified (GM) salmon may end up being cheaper than wild salmon or non-GM farmed salmon, but perceived savings at the cash register are likely to be offset by a variety of hidden nutritional and environmental costs." Hartnell notes that the full impact of GM salmon will depend largely upon two factors:

  • Whether the GM salmon are grown in ocean pens. Farmed salmon routinely escape in large numbers from these, and spread disease and parasites to wild salmon. Escapees may also interbreed, with dire consequences for the genetic integrity of wild salmon. The alternative is growing the GM salmon in closed-containment pens sited on land. AquaBounty Technologies, the company that created the fast-growing GM salmon, claims that it will sell them only to farms that use closed-containment pens sited on land. While such farms may present waste-disposal and water-use problems, Hartnell believes raising the salmon in ocean pens may ultimately be far worse for the environment.
  • What the GM salmon will be fed. They may require less wild seafood (mostly krill and ground-up small fish like menhaden and sardines) to reach harvest weight, which would be good. But it's likely that most of their feed will consist of the grain and soy given to regular farmed salmon. Grains are sources of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats, already excessively present in the standard American diet, an imbalance that undermines long-term health. In contrast, wild salmon from Alaska and (to a lesser extent) those from British Columbia are abundant and one of the last truly wild, naturally "organic" foods available. They're one of the very best sources of vital long-chain omega-3 fats, with a healthier fat profile than their farmed counterparts.

"In addition, all wild Alaskan salmon and most wild Canadian salmon are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. This year more than 100 million wild salmon will be sustainably harvested from Alaskan waters - above and beyond millions of additional fish allowed to return to their native spawning grounds," Hartnell said.

If the FDA does approve the GM salmon, it will be two to three years before the fish reach the marketplace.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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