Clarified: What does "genetically modified" salmon mean?
September 20th, 2010
04:00 AM ET
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Photo: AquAdvantage® Salmon in the background; a non-GMO Atlantic salmon of the same age in the foreground.

In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology we're attempting to do the same.

The United States' Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of public hearings to determine if it will approve AquaBounty Technologies' application for fish spawned from genetically engineered salmon eggs to be allowed for use as food. These "AquAdvantage® Salmon" grow into full-sized fish in half the time that it would take a regular salmon, and if approved, would become the first "transgenic" or genetically engineered animals to be approved for human consumption.

It's a deeply fraught issue for both fans and foes of the technology, but stripping politics and propriety aside, here's what "genetically modified" actually means in the context of fish farming.

Genetic engineering entails introducing desirable traits of one living being into another, using recombinant DNA , or rDNA technology. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is made up of two strands of nucleotides, twisted around each other in a double helix at the nucleus of a cell. The order of the nucleotides determines hereditary characteristics. More succinctly, it's genes.

Before now, genetic engineering has been used widely in agriculture to make crops resistant to pests and herbicides, in the development of microbes to produce pharmaceuticals for human and animal use, and in food to produce microorganisms used in baking, brewing and cheesemaking. While various organizations have been working to develop genetically modified animals, such as the University of Guelph's "Enviropig" - which more easily digests plant phosphorous, thus excreting less of it into the environment - AquAdvantage® Salmon would be the first to be approved by the FDA for use as food.

The fish's rapid growth will be boosted by the injection of a combination of a growth gene (GH-coding sequences) from the Pacific Chinook salmon and genetic material (the AFP gene) from the ocean pout - a large, eel-like fish - into the fertilized eggs of Atlantic salmon, making the recombined DNA present in cells throughout the body of the fish. The Chinook gene promotes the growth to market size, and the pout gene allows the fish to grow in the winter as well as the summer.

AquaBounty Technologies claims the resultant fish are reproductively sterile due to another genetic alteration - triploidy - that eliminates the possibility of interbreeding amongst themselves or with other native breeds, while maintaining protection over intellectual property. The company will only sell female eggs and raise the fish within contained, inland systems. However, despite these assurances, the FDA indicates that up to 5% of the eggs may indeed be fertile, and the company's claims in this regard are "potentially misleading."

This analysis is entirely new ground for the FDA, and their Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee is employing the regulations they would to evaluate veterinary pharmaceuticals, rather those used for than food safety. According to Section 5 of the group's overview of this engineered Atlantic salmon, "That rDNA construct meets the definition of a 'drug' under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" as "an article intended to alter the structure or function of the body of man or animal."

Previously - What does "sustainable seafood" mean?

Catch up on all of Eatocracy's GMO coverage.

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Filed under: Clarified • Environment • FDA • Fishing • Food Politics • Food Science • GMO • News • Ocean • Salmon • Sustainability

soundoff (1,111 Responses)

    A wonderful post. Thank you!

    July 8, 2014 at 2:15 am |
  2. Martin Reinstein

    All who keep claimimg that people defending SOL are employees are wanting to believe that nonsense just so they can reinforce their own belief that their failures are a result of a scam and not their own inactivity. Folks it is very easy to research the owners of these web sites to see they are truly just SOL customers with desire and ambition and they realize the fastest route to failure is doing nothing. I am a pipefitter/welder by trade but for the last 6 years I have become a web master using several different shopping carts. I have experience using Prostores, Storesonline, X-cart, and Interspire. The best shopping cart program for me is Interspire but their customer support is very bad compared to SOL. SOL's shopping cart is not very Google friendly but no matter what the people tell you here, their customer support is better than any of the rest. You can call me an employee, I don't care, but you are just deluding your own mind. There are thousands of SOL web site owners who do not have the complaints as you see in this forum. I post in many forums and yes occassionally I make time to answer a few posts in here just to help keep the balance as much as I can. This forum is a collection of the most likely to fail at any business, online or off and some posts are not even worth answering. The folks who gripe about the "piece of crap" Ipod or that just went for a free meal are the lowest in here, If a person went to a sales seminar just for a free meal and cheap Ipod then you can rest assured that person has not the desire or will to attempt anything seriously. What a waste of time.

    December 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  3. Gearhead

    GET OVER IT EVERTHING IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED THESE DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing is sacred or pure. God save us. Not a chance. LOL

    June 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  4. Transgenic Mice

    Transgenic Mice has allowed researchers to observe experimentally the roles of genes in development, physiology and disease. Transgenic mice has become a real human pathology model and their use has dramatically increased for the past two decades. Medical devices companies have also succeeded in developing state-of-the-art miniature equipments adapted to mice enabling researchers to maximize their project study.Get a Quote Now! Save Time & Money!

    June 12, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  5. Jake, the cooliest person evaa :D

    hi im jake.. and i'm addicted to.. comquats

    May 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  6. Chris

    I have seen alot of discussion about this and thought i would add my thoughts. Refering to the posts about early puberty is children. I thought that the period when you go through puberty is decided by the DNA. If i remember correctly DNA at times crosses-over changing the things around and changes the periods at which this hormonal outburst happens. I will research it and post my links later. Also im 17 and I find it funny how yall are "dirt-slinging" and yall are older then me. All people on here asked for was links to actual research. Do the research and post your links its not that hard if you try.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Chris

      Also case reports would be helpful to add if you can find any.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  7. Crisa

    Think about it, to get a drug approved they need to test if it gives you cancer or any other illness(plus what they are testing the salmon for and other engineered food), BUT, what about testing all this geneticly engineered FOOD?! not JUST the salmon, but the corn, pig, beef, or anything. not right.

    January 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  8. Cheryl

    Don't buy the crap food .....

    November 26, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  9. Cheryl

    Consumers beware !!!!!!!!

    November 26, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  10. Cheryl

    WAKE UP OUT THERE ...... Consumers beware !!!!!!!!

    November 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  11. Cheryl

    The FDA is just not protecting us .... WAKE UP OUT THERE ...... Consumers beware !!!!!!!!

    November 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
    • Charles Rader

      Cheryl, I'm replying to you comment about three and a half years later, March of 2014. [The FDA is just not protecting us .... WAKE UP OUT THERE ...... Consumers beware !!!!!!!!]

      FDA has still not decided to approve or disapprove the AquaBounty salmon. The genetic change was demonstrated 23 years ago, so any charge that they (FDA) are is not being cautious enough is just silly.

      March 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
  12. Cheryl

    The FDA may not require GE salmon to be labeled as such ....... hmmmmmmm ......makes you wonder why not ..... I mean if it is safe ...... WAKE UP OUT THERE ...... Consumers beware !!!!!!!!

    November 26, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  13. Alexandria

    I think this process that you are doing is a very different but good thing. The out put of this will be good.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  14. NeSS

    At the end of the day – and although Monsanto has been research of mine for two decades, and they are only about profit-at-any-cost – there's a simple principle by which to assess and live:

    1/ Can this do harm? Don't know – then wait, do more testing (of which precious little is done, because the FDA, the USDA, and even the Supreme Court has ex-Monsanto folks on it).

    2/ Can this do harm? Yes. Then don't do it. Explore something else.

    3/ Can this do harm? No, most definitely not. Then, full speed ahead.

    It is the rush to profit that is responsible for almost everything negative and harmful, especially in terms of our food supply. BT crops do have an impact, and the research is out there – as long as you don't simply take Monsanto & its allies' word for it (unless you want to.)

    What is known about the GM Salmon is that it was 'promised' it would never get into the wild, but it already has. If you look at the profit motive for 'accidentally' releasing them from the 'farm' you can see why it's being done. It doesn't matter to these monoliths if the natural salmon is killed (the GM salmon are not only larger, they are aggressive.) The balance of nature is possibly another risk, everything being interdependent.

    And, in a letter written by Monsanto, back in the day when they destroyed Anniston, Alabama with their pcbs, it clearly states, "We cannot afford to lose even one penny of profit, not matter what."

    There is enough food to feed the world. It's the way in which it is handled that causes food shortages. We commodify grains – look at the price of rice, which is the staple of many economies, and you can see what occurs.

    A good discussion overall, albeit with the obligatory lapse into whose stupid or ignorant or whatever. Sad that we feel we have to attack in order to make a point. For me, that automatically puts one in a category of having already lost credibility; and it makes you sound like the corporate whores of congress, who spend all their time on their knees before the Monoliths like Monsanto.


    November 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  15. The non retard

    starlink was recalled because the corn was violating regulations because they were mixing it with non gene modified corn

    November 12, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  16. Doug

    If you people want to eat GMO foods and feed them to your kids, go ahead. I will continue to eat organic labeled food which (hopefully) insures that there are no GE organisms in it. What I hope for is that the USDA will start to do what they have to do in Europe, that is LABEL these potentially dangerous foods as Genetically Modified! That way the people who care about their health and their kids health can avoid them. Problem is that MOST food on the grocery store shelves are GM and it would cause a general outrage once people start to see what they are feeding their kids.

    If you don't think GMO foods are potentially unsafe, tell me about Starlink Corn. Why was it recalled? Why did people who ate it get sick? I thought it was safe! Oh, then they tried to ship it off to Africa to poison the hungry people over there! Nice.

    What about the crop growers who choose not to use Monsanto GM soy beans and their fields get cross contaminated and are sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for patent infringement bankrupting them at no fault of their own? That seems like a dangerous side effect of GMO foods. Patents on food? Not good.

    Genetic Modification IS NOT THE SAME as natural selection, or cross breeding. These are natural processes. Splicing selected genes into a life form from other species is potentially unsafe and if allowed should be labeled! Let the people in the stores decide for themselves!

    November 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  17. The non retard

    all you do to make this is put enzymes into the fish there is nothing wrong with the fish so please learn before you post it is just a really big fish

    November 8, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  18. Wake-Up

    There is no reason for GMO foods,the body knows the difference and its dangerous! You people need to wake up and stop eating everything from a box,can,wrapper etc and get back to nature! Nature does not make mistakes!!!! WAKE UP!!!!!

    November 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  19. Brent Broker

    I'm not a biologist by any means, but these fish are 'suffering' from triploidy. Eating it sounds dangerous. What are the chances these alterations are passed over into the human genome after consumption? Let's just say I'm not going to feed my pregnant wife anything that has triploidy.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  20. Brett Favre's fan (a.k.a. ybs)

    KISS - keep it simple & stupid.

    If the FDA allows us to eat Pacific Chinook salmon and ocean pout – a large eel-like fish; then if the FDA determine, through its normal procedures, the recombined DNAs species is safe, then what's the problem?

    Why there exist so many fakking idiots?

    October 10, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  21. Skyler C

    I'm from Alaska and catch/eat King (Chinook) Salmon all the time, so eating another fish with copies of its genes dosen't really bother me. I am nervous about the 5% being fertile though, if these things ever got out to the ocean and were eating 100% all year long, what would happen to the natural food chain? Assuming they could gaurentee this was an imposibility I don't have a problem with them producing the product. I would NEVER eat a farmed fish but I'm not such an douche that I'd object to some one who can't get/afford natural salmon eating it.

    October 8, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • kathy


      December 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  22. mkassowitz

    AquaBounty is trying to pull the same "fast one" that Monsanto and others have pulled with regard the GM foods. The card that is played is that this is for our (the consumer's) benefit, so that we don't run out of food. The real card not being shown is that this is a move to turn a food product into intellectual property. That means that AquaBounty will be in a position to drive farm raised salmon out of business and will become the only "viable" source of this product. Sounds like a violation of anti trust law to me. The "science" behind this scam is just plain faulty.

    October 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  23. El Gato

    I am an avid fisherman and I wonder what this will do to the fishing industry. I believe that this is a waste of money/time but it is a capitalistic company who is more concerned about profit and market share than anything else. I don't really care about the scientific aspect. If scientists want to play around with anything then they should be working with engineers to create the most wonderful device of all time that has only been dreamed of in Sci-Fi, Star Trek's Replicator. World hunger-solved but alas this is just a pipe dream and by the time we can do that I'm sure the world will be engulfed in war and we will all be dead or struggling to survive. Maybe we should be concerned with Iran??? Not some silly fish I would never buy, I would rather catch my own and teach my children to do it as well. Sorry to all you eggheads that want people to spout out proof and journalistic articles. This is a comment forum and not your mental bullpen.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:20 am |
  24. el flaco

    This issue has nothing to do with science or technology. It is about corporate agribusiness. I know that science has produced and will will produce an increasing accurate and detailed description of the universe around us. I know that engineers can use scientific knowledge to produce useful tools and artifacts. What I do NOT know is what this salmon really is.

    If we have learned anything about corporate behavior based on our experiences with BP, Enron, Blackwater, Halliburton, HP, AIG, etc. it is this: unless a saintly federal regulator is holding a gun to the head of the CEO, every corporation will cook the books, lie to consumers, lie to regulators, lie to investors, lie to employees, fake test results, destroy deformed animals, conceal product defects, hide scientific results that are undesireable, and conceal harm to customers.

    I trust science but not corporate science.
    Corporate science is to science as a whorehouse is to an art museum.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  25. SteakAllTheWay

    LABEL IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  26. roginator

    Technology always has it's detractors.

    The fact is ocean populations are dwindling each year from over fishing. This technology may or may not be safe, but something like this is needed to support peoples huge appetite for fish.

    It's okay to be cautious of progress, but really all the dumb comments here seem to forget that we've been genetically manipulating our food sources for thousands of years, both plant and animal.

    September 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  27. Jani Syed

    if you play with Nature, Nature will soon Extinct you!

    September 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  28. m

    Part of the end result will be these giant Atlantic Salmon, that don't spawn and die like like the Pacific Salmon, will monopolize the fish food and the regular size fish will have less food and eventually die out. Survival of the fittest and biggest. The other part is food sources are slowly being centralized in the hands of very few corporations. These corps. have been working on breeding giant non propagating foods sources for years. They will be the only source for food. You want to eat? Buy from them or starve

    September 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  29. Chuck Norris


    September 29, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • El Gato

      Oh Mr. Norris! He can punch an air molecule into a fish then have it smoked with his icy glare.

      October 3, 2010 at 2:24 am |
  30. Dave

    Just wondering...without taking sides, and just making an observation – how many people willingly put drugs into their system, even new drugs, without much fear, yet quiver over eating some new food. I feel like half the people I know are taking something for various reasons. Is there much of a difference? Histeria can be soooo entertaining sometimes.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
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