Today, environmental activists across the US are cringing at the FDA’s announcement that they have given a variety of genetically engineered salmon the green light, deeming the fish fit for human consumption. The AquAdvantage salmon has been genetically modified to grow twice as fast as regular salmon, so it reaches market weight sooner. While the announcement is disappointing for many, it doesn’t come as a major surprise — the FDA gave it preliminary approval more than five years ago.
One major concern raised by environmental and consumer advocates is the possibility of the modified salmon escaping into the wild. Because of their larger size and their increased need for food, if the AquAdvantage salmon made it into waterways, they might crowd out the existing fish. And if the procedure to sterilize any of the fish fails, they might even begin to mix their genes with unaltered, wild fish.
The FDA is satisfied that the land-based facilities AquaBounty Technologies is using to farm the fish provides adequate protection against the GE salmon getting loose. Unfortunately, no matter how strict the protections are on paper, workers are bound to make mistakes — and the company’s current facilities are dangerously close to nearby waterways. Can they really be trusted to maintain the strict containment standards needed to keep the fish isolated from the environment?
Adding insult to injury, AquaBounty is already marketing the fish as “the world’s most sustainable salmon” due to their quick growth and the fact that they can be farmed in the US rather than imported. There’s no mention on their site of what would happen if the salmon were to escape and become an invasive species in nearby waters.
So what are customers to do if they want to avoid the new GE salmon on supermarket shelves? At the moment, you have nothing to worry about. The fish aren’t ready for sale yet, there’s no timeline on how long it will take AquaBounty to raise enough fish to be commercially viable. Unfortunately, once the salmon do go up for sale, there’s no requirement that they be labeled as genetically modified. The only way to know will be to contact the food manufacturer, look for fish specifically labeled as non-GMO, or shop at a store that has pledged not to carry them.