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Are Genetically Modified Salmon as Safe as Wild-Caught Fish?

Are Genetically Modified Salmon as Safe as Wild-Caught Fish?

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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

For seafood lovers, Alaskan wild-caught salmon is one of the greatest taste treats. Having lived in Anchorage, Alaska, from 2001 to 2010, we learned the rare treat of all five kinds of Alaska salmon -- Chum, Sockeye, King, Silver and Pink salmon.

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From mid-May to mid-September, the Alaska salmon catching season is a sport fishing paradise and a seafood delicacy in restaurants and grocery stores. Wild-caught salmon is expensive because of the official two-a-day limit on catching them.

Atlantic salmon are tasty too, but my preference is for Alaska wild-caught salmon. However, we are beginning to worry about Atlantic salmon because Atlantic salmon eggs are being modified genetically and shipped to fish hatcheries. “This is the first time a genetically modified food animal will be raised and sold in the United States. The work is being done by AquaBounty Farms,” United Press International reported on May 30.

Genetically Modified Fish Eggs Are Injected into Atlantic Salmon

AquaBounty is pursuing this groundbreaking move into bioengineering the food we eat. The DNA from two other fish species – specifically Chinook salmon, which is listed on the Endangered Species Act, and Atlantic Ocean pout, an eel-like fish found in northern Atlantic waters -- are injected into Atlantic salmon. The goal is “to begin harvesting in late 2020,” UPI said.

The business case for creating this genetically modified salmon is significant. The normal time for harvesting mature salmon is between 28 and 36 months. This new mutated species of salmon can be harvested in 18 months, or up to 50 percent faster.

Part of the rationale for producing this new form of salmon, UPI explained, is “faster-growing fish would ease the burden on wild-caught salmon, whose populations are declining due to overfishing.”

The Federal Government Is a Partner

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this genetically modified salmon in 2015. “A presidential executive order was signed to make it simpler to genetically modify animals and plants. But this approval applied only to two AquaBounty’s facilities outside the U.S. that could be used for producing the salmon. One is on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where the salmon eggs are produced. The other site is the company’s grow-out facility in Panama, “where fish hatch from the eggs and grow to maturity.”

Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order to simplify the path for researchers and businesses to genetically modify animals and plants – this included this GMO salmon. The order makes it easier to move such GMO foods into U.S. grocery and restaurant markets.

Native Americans Fear Altered Salmon Will Affect Their Livelihood

Native Americans have objected to this new genetically altered salmon, claiming that it negatively affects their native salmon, which they fish for as part of their livelihood. They have branded this genetically altered salmon “frankenfish.”

A Quinault Indian Nation spokesperson told UPI that “it's unconscionable and arrogant to think man can improve upon our creator's perfection in wild salmon as a justification and excuse to satisfy corporate ambition and greed.

Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Target and Safeway have vowed not to sell this new salmon. According to a Friends of the Earth article, “The total number of companies committed to not sell genetically engineered salmon now stands at more than 60 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, H-E-B, Meijer, Hy-Vee, Marsh, Giant Eagle, and now Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country.”

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Others have joined the fight against genetically altered salmon. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has stated that she “will continue [her] fight to ensure that any salmon product that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled.”

This issue is more than just genetically modified salmon. There is also the issue of labeling. Food labeling is a hot topic among the grocery business and manufacturers of our food source. They are against increasing information on food labels. The Sugar Association, for instance, does not want sugar added as an ingredient on certain food packages. There are also reports that businesses are not following federal food labeling requirements.

Those who work to ensure proper food labels appear on products for human consumption even have a special name, “Labelists.” Congress has been working for several years to ensure that proper labeling procedures are followed. But the House and Senate are at odds over a revised meaning and wording of H.R.1599 - Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.

Whether or not all grocery chains will add GMO labels on salmon is not clear. If in doubt, consumers should ask store managers about the company’s labeling. The groceries, restaurants and fisheries in Alaska have always been clear about what they are selling: Alaska sells fresh or frozen Alaskan wild-caught salmon, caught in Alaska waters and not grown in some tank or fish farm.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.