GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, so GMO salmon is genetically modified. What does this mean? The biotechnology company, AquaBounty Technologies, has created a GMO salmon they call AquAdvantage® Fish. This fish is in the process of being approved by the FDA. AquAdvantage® Fish is created by injecting growth hormone from Chinook Pacific salmon and DNA from an ocean pout fish (a type of eel) into a fertilized Atlantic salmon egg. This stimulates the frankenfish to grow to market weight in only 18 months rather than the natural 3 years it takes wild salmon!

GE Salmon

GM Salmon vs. Non-GM Salmon, Source

Potential Health Risks! 

Allergies and Auto-Immune Risks

Central Dogma of Gene Expression: DNA  –>  RNA  –>  Protein

GMO foods lead to increased allergies and auto-immune risks because DNA manipulation leads to a foreign gene expression of protein which is not recognized by our immune system as natural food.Our immune system labels unnatural food as foreign protein, and proceeds to attack and quarantine the “invader”  to protect our bodies. The FDA has allowed AquAdvantage® Fish to move forward even though lab results have showed an increase in allergy causing potential and also elevated growth hormone levels linked to prostate, breast and colon cancers. Source: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=9142

Scary Science

I do not know as much about GMO animals, but I do know quite a bit about GMO crops (plan to write a post on GMO crops). With GMO crops, the genes that are engineered lack introns, which are kind of like the bookends of the genes, which normally limit potential mutations. GMO crops, lacking these introns, are more unpredictable and uncontrollable as they are more subject to mutations. The Roundup® resistant gene in GMO crops has been found to be transferred into the genes of our gut bacteria! If this happens with GMO crops, I am sure similar processes can happen with GMO animals. We still do not know and are not able to predict all the potential risks when dealing with something as complex as gene manipulation and expression. 

Unlabeled!

What makes all this even more scary? If GMOs continue to not be labeled we won’t be able to tell the difference between regular farmed fish and GMO fish when they are sold at grocery stores! I do not approve of farmed fish anyway and always choose wild caught. If this passes I will be hesitant to order fish at restaurants and will have to be forced to ask “Is this fish wild caught?” in order to safeguard my food.

Environmental Risks

I do not want to get too far into this, but GMO salmon is said to eat 5 times more food than wild salmon. If these frankenfish were to escape they would definitely compete with our wild salmon population. Even worse, they might mate with them! Only 95% of the GMO salmon is said to be sterile.

So why is GMO salmon scary? GMO salmon can lead to several health risks including allergies and auto-immune issues, alterations in nutritional content, environmental risks, and the potential of uncontrolled gene mutations and transfers is very real, plus many other reasons!

Want to learn more about GMOs?

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-Brenda Baran, NTP