The New Godzillas: Genetically Engineered Salmon, Are They Safe to Eat?

Godzilla Salmon. Copyright 2010 by Erin BlumerGodzilla Salmon. Copyright 2010 by Erin BlumerLately, news from the FDA's neck of the woods has been all atwitter about a new, genetically engineered breed of salmon. The basic idea is that, instead of injecting growth hormones into the salmon (or other types of animals), these fish have been genetically modified to increase their production of the growth hormones that occur naturally. Thus, they grow about twice as fast as normal salmon. The CEO of the company, called Aquabounty, obviously sees huge growth potential (pun totally intended) and monetary gain for his endeavor, should the FDA approve. So far, the FDA seems to think that these fish would be safe to eat, but many people, myself included, are not so sure.

For one thing, there have only been four studies into the safety of the salmon for human consumption, three of which were sponsored and conducted by Aquabounty itself. Conflict of interest anyone? There is some concern that the engineered salmon, in addition to possibly being unsafe generally, could cause severe allergies in some people. Allergies would be nothing new, since plenty of people are already allergic to things like nuts and shellfish, and those are still on the market for sale.

However, my main concern is not whether Aquabounty should be allowed to sell their product, but rather whether they should be required to label the fish as having been genetically modified. Curiously, despite the fact that Aquabounty insists that their product is completely safe and consumers should not think twice about eating it, they have been less than excited about labeling the product "genetically modified."

This is a concern for a couple of reasons. The first is that if allergic reactions do result from some people consuming the genetically modified fish, they need be able to know whether or not the salmon they are buying has been altered, just the way labels on certain food products say, "made in a facility that also processes peanuts," or "contains wheat and dairy products." Consumption of products that cause an allergic reaction can be fatal, so companies who create products that may cause reactions in some people should absolutely be required to label their products, or face charges of manslaughter, negligence, and probably a few other things that people who are actually lawyers would be able to come up with.

The second reason the salmon should be labeled is that consumers have a right to choice. Choice is inherent to the idea of free-market capitalism, and to remove that choice essentially results in monopoly-like conditions. Basically, if Aquabounty is not required to label their fish, they remove their competition from other non-modified fish because the consumer lacks the knowledge to be able to choose between two products. And yes, if you've genetically modified your fish, it counts as a different product than non-modified fish. Don't pretend otherwise. I don't take particularly kindly to people or companies who try to game the system, especially by attempting to ensure the ignorance of the consumer (which unfortunately, seems to happen quite frequently).

I do think that Aquabounty has a right to sell their product, but they should do so honestly by labeling their product for what it really is. It is the only way to ensure the safety and economic rights of consumers.

Personally, I won't be going anywhere near these modified fish. As it is, I always try to eat wild-caught salmon as opposed to farmed, simply because the salmon that are farmed eat corn, which is not their natural diet. As a result, they're not as tasty, and they may not have as many Omega-3s as wild-caught salmon. I realize that eating wild-caught salmon has an impact on the environment, which is a reason to eat it in moderation. It also can get expensive.

Does anyone have an opinion on this issue? Do you think that the fish are safe to eat, or that more research needs to be done?

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