Genetically Modified Salmon: Everything You Need to Know

Taking inspiration from the dozens of faux Q&As sent to me throughout the year by the PR departments of the corporate food world, I thought I...

Taking inspiration from the dozens of faux Q&As sent to me throughout the year by the PR departments of the corporate food world, I thought I would produce my own Q&A about corporate food's most recent contribution—the AquaBounty AquAdvantage™ salmon.

Q: AquaBounty calls the AquAdvantage™ an "advanced hybrid" fish and the company's president Ronald Stotish said recently on CNN that there is not "any material difference between the AquaBounty salmon and an Atlantic salmon." Is this fish an Atlantic salmon? And is it a hybrid or a genetically modified animal?

A: The AquAdvantage™ salmon is an Atlantic salmon with a Chinook salmon growth gene inserted into its DNA. In addition, a regulator protein from a fish called an ocean pout has been added to the Chinook growth gene turning the gene permanently in the "on" position. It is a genetically modified animal.

Q: Does it grow very fast?

A: Yes, very fast. Twice as fast as an unmodified salmon.

Q: Isn't that a little uncomfortable for the fish?

A: Probably. In fact, experiments with artificially accelerating growth in terrestrial animals have been known to cause crippling skeletal deformations. Fish, however, float, and can endure some of the negative effects of precocious growth. But in the end we do not know how much these fish will suffer.

Q: But is the AquAdvantage™ salmon safe to eat?

A: According to the Center for Food Safety, AquaBounty has tested a total of 12 fish for allergens and other potential human health risks. AquaBounty claims they have tested 30 fish. If the number really is 12, most statisticians say this is too small a sample size to be statistically valid. Whatever the number of fish, the individuals tested were not grown in Panama, the location where AquaBounty plans to produce their fish. This, the Center for Food Safety asserts, is a violation of testing standards set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Q: Wait, the AquAdvantage™ salmon is being grown in Panama?

A: Sort of. Actually the eggs will be created in Canada and then shipped to Panama where they will be grown out to mature size in a facility in the Panamanian mountains. After they are full size they will be slaughtered and the meat will be sent to U.S. supermarkets, where they will be packaged under many familiar brand names and sold as "Atlantic salmon."

Q: But they'll be labeled as genetically modified salmon so I know what I'm eating, right?

A: No. They will be labeled as "Atlantic salmon."

Q: But why are they being grown in Panama?

A: Two reasons. First, the warm waters of Panama might ensure that if these fish escape they won't survive to maturity. The other reason seems to be that if they are grown outside of the United States, AquaBounty will not have to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement as required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Q: What about the food miles required to ship those eggs and salmon all over the place?

A: AquaBounty may offset some of those costs because the AquAdvantage™ salmon requires 10 percent less feed than an unmodified salmon.

Q: Only 10 percent less? I thought that the whole point of the AquAdvantage™ salmon was that it was twice as efficient as an unmodified salmon, and would require half as much wild fish used as feed to bring to market.

A: No. The AquAdvantage™ salmon grows twice as fast. But according to AquaBounty's own optimistic predictions, it is not much more feed-efficient than an unmodified salmon. Greenpeace asserts that the AquAdvantage™ salmon may actually require more feed than an unmodified salmon. Greenpeace also asserts that the AquAdvantage™ salmon may necessitate the use of more antibiotics than an unmodified salmon since the fish may suffer compromised health as a result of artificially accelerated growth.

Q: But then who benefits from this faster growth rate?

A: AquaBounty. Twice as much salmon every year means twice as much money per dollar spent.

Q: But won't having more salmon on the market take pressure off endangered stocks of wild salmon?

A: There are still many wild salmon left in the world. The state of Alaska produces hundreds of millions of pounds of salmon every year in closely regulated fisheries. The biggest threat to salmon right now is not overfishing but rather habitat destruction. The "Pebble" copper and gold mine project being proposed for Bristol Bay, Alaska, for example, could wipe out the most productive sockeye salmon grounds in the world—an annual run of 40 million fish. More information on the Pebble Mine project can be found here.

Q: Still, AquaBounty says that it will grow its fish in closed containment facilities and that this will be better for the environment: no escapes, no disease transfer, right?

A: Closed containment facilities are indeed a good thing. Keeping salmon farms out of wild salmon migration routes is a positive step. But the Arctic char, a close relative of the Atlantic salmon, is already being grown nearly exclusively in closed containment facilities and requires no genetic modification. It's good-tasting and performs all the culinary roles that farmed salmon perform. Furthermore a closed-containment-grown coho salmon that is not genetically modified is now in production and has been given a "best choice" rating by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

Q: All the media I've seen gives the impression that it is inevitable that the AquAdvantage™ salmon will be approved by the FDA and that we will see modified salmon on the market very soon. Is the AquAdvantage™ salmon "inevitable"?

A: No. The AquAdvantage™ salmon is far from approved. In September, the FDA's panel asked for further research and gave no final approval date for the fish. Thirty-eight representatives and senators requested that FDA halt the approval process. In addition, lawsuits could follow should the FDA approve the fish for human consumption. The soonest we could see the AquAdvantage™ salmon on the market would be 2012, but given the company's volatile stock price, which fell by nearly 30 percent off its high following the FDA hearings, it is difficult to predict whether the company will have sufficient resources to survive the waiting period.

Q: Which organizations are opposing the FDA approval of the AquAdvantage™ salmon?

A: Food and Water Watch and The Center for Food Safety are particularly active.

Q: Would you eat the AquAdvantage™ salmon?

A: I would not. In fact, more than 60 percent of readers of the conservative Wall Street Journal would not either, according to a recent online poll. A survey I conducted for the public radio station WHYY during an online webchat indicated that 0 percent would eat the AquAdvantage™ salmon. But why not tell GOOD what you think?

Do you eat farmed salmon?

Would you eat the AquAdvantage™ salmon?

Should the AquAdvantage™ be labeled "genetically modified"?

Would you continue to eat farmed salmon if you knew that some farmed salmon might be genetically modified but was not labeled as such?

Paul Greenberg is the author of book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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