Genetically Engineered Salmon – Sounds Yummy

This week, the FDA approved genetically engineered (GE) salmon without requiring labeling. According to the FDA, the genetically engineered Atlantic salmon are “a new animal drug application.”

A 2013 NY Times poll found that half of Americans don’t want to eat genetically engineered vegetables, fruits and grains. Americans are even less comfortable eating meat from genetically engineered animals, as three-quarters said they would not eat GE fish, and two-thirds said they would not eat meat that had been genetically modified.

Genetically engineered salmon contain a growth-hormone gene construct inserted into the egg of the fish to speed up growth. Consumers have long had concerns about consuming animal proteins given growth hormones. A prime example is the universal demise of FDA-approved rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone given to dairy cattle to increase milk production. Consumers made choices to avoid this growth hormone and organic milk sales (which prohibit rBGH) skyrocketed. Another example is the steep rise in consumer demand of “clean” beef and antibiotic-free (ABF) poultry, raised without antibiotics and hormones.

What will consumers think about fish that contain a “growth hormone gene construct?”

Nearly 2 million people — including scientists, fishermen, business owners, and consumers had written to the FDA opposing the approval of genetically engineered salmon.

A 2013 Canadian GE Salmon Risk Assessment of environmental and human health impact found genetically engineered salmon to be more susceptible to disease, likely requiring more antibiotic use to prevent disease. It found wide variations in growth rates suggesting that the growth-hormone gene construct inserted in the fish may not be operating in a predictable manner, raising questions about the durability, safety and commercial viability of GE salmon.

Consumers Union, the public policy arm of trusted Consumer Reports finds the FDA’s human and environmental safety assessments to be seriously flawed.

In poll after poll, consumers say they want GE foods labeled. The same NY Times poll found 93% of Americans want GE foods to be labelled. Alaska already requires labeling of genetically engineered fish and shellfish.

Consumers are adamant about wanting to know what is in their food, with some form of GE labeling likely in the not too distant future. Vermont’s July 2016 GE labeling requirement has food companies scrambling to meet the deadline and federal legislatures scrambling to minimize the confusing patchwork of state labeling laws.

Will GE salmon be accepted by consumer or go the way of rBGH? Currently, sixty retailers, representing 9000 grocery stores, have said “no” to selling genetically engineered salmon.

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