By: Lindsey Wheaton
Summary. Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs are plants, animals, or microbes whose genomes have been altered in some way. We’ve genetically altered crops to mature faster, be resistant to pests, and even have enhanced nutritional value. We’ve genetically modified animals before, but the company Aquabounty has created the first genetically modified animal approved by the FDA for human consumption. There is some backlash however. Many are worried about the potential damage these fish could do if they were to somehow escape. While the fish will be raised on land in aquaculture farms, there is still worry about the possibility of the fish getting out. The fish are modified to be sterile, so the possibility of reproducing with wild fish is not possible, but there are many other ways these fish could impact the environment. If they were to somehow be released there is no way of knowing how the GMO salmon competing with other organisms could affect wildlife. Some think that because of this, it is too risky to continue production of the fish. Other concerns include people not trusting the FDA approval, who feel like eating a genetically modified animal is not safe. Some critics have even called Aquabounty’s Salmon a “Frankenfish”. Other pushback comes from animal rights groups who believe the treatment of the fish to be cruel, comparing the conditions at land aquaculture farms to a slaughterhouse. Many animal rights activists believe that creating a species just for the purpose of consumption is not ethical. With the pushback however, there are some people praising this as a scientific miracle, and a positive step towards a more sustainable future. Overfishing causes not only depleted populations of many different types of fish, but it also is something that leads to a lot of plastic pollution in our oceans. It’s estimated that 500,000 to 1 million tons of fishing gear is discarded in the ocean every year. Genetically Modified Salmon could be a possible solution as the fish are raised on land and would reduce the need to catch wild fish. Aquabounty’s genetically modified salmon will be the first of its kind, an animal who has been altered for the purpose of consumption. It’ll be interesting to see if consumers decide that the pros outweigh the cons and animals modified for human consumption become the way of the future.
Why we should care? We should care about replenishing salmon populations, but at the same time we should be cautious of the potential harm that genetically modified animals could cause if they ended up in the wild.
I read articles that were both in support of and against Aquabounty’s GMO salmon. This article in particular was overall in support of it and I think it did a really good job addressing people's concerns about the fish and explaining why it is not necessary to be concerned about certain things. I found a lot of articles that had claims that were not backed up by the research the FDA has done, or any research at all. One of these claims mentioned in this article was that the hormones in the fish will cause cancer, which is not true because all vertebrae and mammals mature with the same growth hormone as these fish. Just because these fish mature quicker does not mean they mature with different hormones. I liked this article because while I have some issues with the fish, I do think that many other articles were fearmongering simply because the Aquabounty fish is different from what people are used to. So if someone I knew was not sure about the safety of the fish, this would be the article I showed them.
Science in Action.
Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam is a Biotechnologist and Specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at University of California.
Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam’s research focus of her lab is the use of DNA-based biotechnologies in beef cattle production and agricultural systems. She has won many awards for her work focusing on biotechnology and agriculture. She was a part of the veterinary medicine advisory committee that overlooked the decades of research done by the FDA to either approve or disapprove of the FDA’s conclusion that there was reasonable certainty that genetically modified salmon were not harmful from a food safety perspective. They also looked at the FDA’s research to see if there were any environmental concerns that were overlooked by the FDA. The conclusion of the committee was that it agreed with the FDA that there was reasonable certainty that GMO salmon posed no harm from both a food safety and an environmental standpoint. Dr. Eenennaam was also featured on a npr episode alongside environmental scientist Dr. Anne Kapuscinski discussing and debating the safety and environmental impact of Aquabounty’s fish.