GMO Salmon

With the FDA’s announcement yesterday that it has approved Aquabounty’s genetically modified salmon for human consumption, thought it would be worth posting this op-ed piece I wrote on the subject a few years back:


In the 1950’s and 60’s, biologists and dam builders assured us that the loss of salmon runs was nothing to worry about. Hatcheries would not only mitigate fish population losses, but could provide salmon runs far beyond what nature produced. We could, in effect, create a bonanza of fish for ourselves. But like almost every instance of humans believing they could do better than Mother Nature, that optimism turned out to be nothing more than hubris. Today, we watch as the hatchery runs dwindle, taking the remnants of wild runs with them.

Twenty years ago, the international fish farming corporations told us their activities were no reason for concern; the open water net pens were a safe alternative to harvesting wild salmon. The fish are sterile, they said. Ocean currents dilute pollution. Nothing to worry about. And now, as we find juvenile Atlantic salmon in Pacific coast streams and watch wild runs ravaged by sea lice infestations, disease and effluent from the farms, the head of one of the largest Scandinavian fish farm companies finally admits what many already knew: The net pens are damaging to wild fish populations.

Which brings us to the news in last week’s New York Times, that the FDA is seriously considering approval of the first genetically engineered food animal for human consumption—a salmon that grows at twice the rate of natural salmon. A Frankenfish designed by man to—once again—outdo nature. Produced by Aquabounty Technologies, this is an Atlantic salmon with growth hormone genes from Chinook salmon and a genetic “on switch” from another species entirely, the ocean pout.

We are assured by Aquabounty that the resulting fish is “identical in every measurable way to the traditional food Atlantic salmon.” Nothing to worry about. The company also says the Federal Government has already approved 5 of the 7 data sets demonstrating the Aquabounty salmon is safe to eat and safe for the environment.

This would be the same federal government that approved British Petroleum’s deep ocean oil drilling, and apparently took the company’s word for it that adequate safety measures were in place. Both BP and the federal agency tasked with oversight believed the triple redundancy of its “blowout preventer” was so secure, they clearly had no viable plan in place should it fail. We all know the results there.

So, when the government and a corporation tell us yet again there’s nothing to worry about, that the Enbridge Pipeline won’t leak, that Pebble Mine won’t destroy Bristol Bay, or, in this case, that messing with the basic code of life on earth is not only safe, but will produce something better than Mother Nature, history offers us one piece of advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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