GM salmon approved

January 2016
In November 2015, after nearly two decades in the regulatory pipeline, the biotech creators of GM fast-growing salmon were "delighted and somewhat surprised" when the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) finally approved their novel fish [1].

Labelling requirements have been left vague, limited to draft guidelines on wording for possible voluntary 'GM' or 'non-GM' labelling.

The immediate response to the FDA approval was two legal challenges. US consumer advocacy group Center for Food Safety, is accusing the FDA of ignoring its own science. In Canada, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are accusing their regulators of failing to follow legal procedure in approving the permit for GM fish-egg production there, and are seeking a court order overturning the approval.

Concerns continue to be raised that GM salmon escapes and environmental catastrophe are inevitable: human error and irresponsible behaviour, bad weather, equipment and facility failure, leaky techniques for making the GM fish sterile, even birds foraging in GM fish farms have all been documented.

Food safety may still be an issue, in particular, increased cancer-promoting growth-hormone levels and allergenicity of the GM salmon flesh [2].

The nutritional value of the novel salmon, a food long prized for its high quality and especially its healthy fat profile, is being used to sell a measurably inferior product. Farmed fish, including natural carnivores like salmon, are fed cheap grain-based feed. The result is a shift in the quality of the meat "from exceptional to pork-like" with , for example, omega-6:omega-3 fat ratios up from 0.6 (healthy) to 46 (very unhealthy). It seems the biotech company, Aquabounty, got round this awkward defect in their product by feeding some of its GM salmon on fish before making the compositional analyses submitted to the FDA.

Also, the fast-growing fish seem bloated, with a higher water content and correspondingly lower nutrient content than normal. 

Early fears that a fish growing at twice the usual rate without any natural pause for cold weather, couldn't be healthy are vindicated by the increased incidence of deformity, and by a draft risk assessment from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans which noted susceptibility to a bacterial pathogen. The latter assessment also noted dramatically diminished growth rates in the GM salmon: this casts doubt on the performance and reliability of the novel genes, and signals unknown effects on the consistency of meat quality. 

Aquabounty claim their GM salmon will be maintained in a special disease- and antibiotic-free environment. However, around the world more than 51 chemicals are used by fish-farmers, including antibiotics, algicides, weedkillers, fungicides, antifouling paints, animal-pest treatments, disinfectants and detergents. How likely is it that the Company's GM fish will remain chemically-clean once GM aquaculture spreads around the world? Plus there's a real possibility that fast-growing salmon may have impaired ability to neutralise and eliminate the toxins used in their cages.

Although it will be at least two years before the first GM salmon are ready for marketing and several years before production can be scaled up to form any significant proportion of the 200,000-ton salmon imported into the US each year, the decision will have an immediate impact on the viability of other commercial GM animal projects [3].

More GM fish for the dinner-plate may well be on the cards because the external fertilisation of fish eggs makes them technically easier to create, plus the possibility of contained intensive farming makes them exportable and lucrative. 

Disease-busting GM mosquitoes haven't got a foothold yet, but watch out for them in areas prone to dengue fever and malaria [4].

Also high on the GM animal agenda are sure to be feathered and four-legged drug factories. GM chickens whose eggs contain a drug for treating a rare but fatal genetic condition were approved in 2015, GM goats producing an anti-clotting agent in their milk were approved in 2009, and drug-producing GM rabbits were approved in 2014. Also see [5].

And of course, now that targeted gene-editing techniques are burgeoning, so will research into all manner of GM animals.


In Scotland, producing a ton of farmed salmon releases 100 kilograms of nitrogenous waste to pollute nearby waters. GM salmon are being touted as a 'green' product' because they grow faster and therefore spend a shorter time in the farm polluting the environment. Take this with a pinch of salt: fish-farming is increasing all around the world and fast-growing salmon can only increase the scale of operations and the levels of pollution.

Also claimed is that GM salmon will save world stocks of precious wild salmon from predatory human consumers (aren't non-GM farmed salmon already doing that?)

The precedent of a GM fish intrinsically substantially different from its non-GM counterpart and wildly different from its natural counterpart, regulated as if it were a drug [6] does not seem an ideal, or even remotely sensible, bases for commercialisation of GM animals. 

If you have friends, relatives or colleagues in Canada, mention to them that the Ecology Action Centre has a Twitter information network on the GM Salmon Trials and a petition to sign plus suggested letters to the Ministers of Environment and of Health. 

If you have friends, relatives or colleagues in America, mention to them that Food & Water Watch is calling on President Obama to overturn the FDA's approval. 

Also mention to them the legal challenges described above. Consumer advocacy groups, especially those embarking on legal action, need all the support they can get.


[1] THE GM SALMON SAGA - February 2012

[2] FREAKY FISH - GMFS Archive, November 2010



[5] NEW ZEALAND'S GM COW DISASTER - News (following), January 2015


  • Olivier Le Curieux-Belfond, 2009, Factors to consider before production and commercialization of aquatic genetically modified organisms: the case of transgenic salmon, Environmental Science & Policy 12
  • Michael Hansen, Comments of Consumers Union on Genetically Engineered Salmon, Food and Drug Administration Docket No. FDA-201034-N-0001, 16.09.10
  • Canadian Risk Assessment Finds GMO Salmon Susceptible to Disease, eNews ParkForest (Illinois, USA), 28.05.15
  • GM salmon loses fatty acids advantage, memo from Charles Benbrook, 21.11.15
  • Oliver Milman, Canada sued over approval of genetically modified salmon scheme, The Guardian, 17.11.15
  • Andrew Pollack, Genetically Engineered Salmon Approved for Consumption,
  • Canada's Genetically Modified Salmon Goes on Trial, Ecology Action Center, December 2015,
  • Environmental groups in court to ensure rigorous assessment of genetically modified salmon in Canada, Ecology Action Centre Press Release, 17.11.15
  • Nadia Prupis, Emergency lawsuit filed to fight FDA approval of "Frankenfish", Common Dreams, 19.11.15
  • FDA approves GMO chicken to produce breakthrough drug, Reuters 10.12.15
Image: Protest in US about FDA approval of GMO salmon. Credit Steve Rhodes on Flickr

No comments:

Post a comment

Thanks for your comment. All comments are moderated before they are published.