New in the News

There are so many things going on in the world of food, nutrition, and agriculture! The three topics I find most interesting right now:

  • GMO salmon are heading towards your dinner plate
  • Legislation is changing restaurant menus
  • Food borne illness outbreaks are all over the place

Since I’m feeling particularly argumentative today I’m going to dive in to the GMO salmon issue. (If you’ve ever hung out with the nutrition/agriculture crowd you know GMOs are the source of many heated arguments.)

In case you missed it, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the AquaAdvantage salmon for human consumption. Here’s a quick, easy to read, fact sheet from the FDA about it. In short, they added a growth factor promoting gene from an ocean pout to the DNA of a Chinook salmon. The fish will be bred in Canada and sterile females will be raised in isolated tanks in Panama. The GMO salmon reach market size sooner than other salmon varieties.

So what’s the problem? TruthOut posted a very well written article by Zoe Loftus-Farren on the possible problems with AquaAdvantage salmon breeding and consumption. Most of these are typical, and arguably valid, arguments against GMO foods in general. There is no definitive way to assess potential allergen risk. If some of the AquaAdvantage fish escape containment the environmental impact could be significant. The potentially increased use of antibiotics is also very troubling in this age of drug resistant “superbugs”.

The one point from this article I will publicly challenge is the idea that increased insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in the salmon might contribute to increased cancers in people who eat these fish. Proteins denature (that is, deactivate) in the presence of heat (like from cooking) and acid (like in your stomach). Even if the salmon IGF-1 is higher in the GMO fish I can not imagine it will be active and able to cause problems in my human body by the time it comes off my grill. If I’m wrong, pretty please send me a valid and reliable source that explains why. I’ll post a retraction.

On the other side of the issue, William Saletan writing for Slate a counter argument.  Page one is mostly a standard counterpoint to the standard anti-GMO arguments noted above. On page two, though, he makes some good points. Farmed GMO salmon could become locally sourced salmon in places far from the sea. There are environmental advantages to this. Also, a tasty GMO animal could pave the way for acceptance of other functional GMO critters.

So, it’s a classic case of “maybe maybe maybe” versus “we did it because we could”. Okay, that is a vast over simplification. The arguments for and against GMO foods, however, are ongoing. Many retailers have already pledged not to sell AquaAdvantage salmon. Are they against the principle of adding exogenous genes to food species or bowing to public opinion that is based on a knee-jerk reaction? Honestly, I just don’t know. This is a complicated issue, and both sides have valid points. What do want in your DIYet? Please post your opinions, respectfully, in the comments section.