Its been more than 15 years in the making, and now it has hit our shores. AquAdvantage salmon is the first animal genetically modified (GM) for food purposes. It is prized for its ability to grow twice as fast when compared to other farmed salmon, reducing the rearing period to 18 months from 3 years. The FDA has given its stamp of approval but activist groups still aren’t convinced. What questions do we need to be asking? Or, should we just be accepting of the fact that GM animals may be the way of the future?
AquAdvantage Genetically Modified Salmon, Why Canada?
We were once known for our highly sought after wild salmon, and now it seems we be remembered for our Frankinfish. On November 23rd the Canada Gazette announced that Environment Canada has approved the commercial production of GM Atlantic salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada.
Although AquaBounty, the creator of AquAdvantage Salmon, is headquartered in the U.S., the GM salmon is based on a gene construct patented by two Canadian university professors. Once the eggs are produced in PEI they make their way to Panama for grow-out and processing. The final product, GM salmon, is then ready to reach consumer dinner tables in the U.S.
Genetically Modified Atlantic Salmon and Environmental Impacts
The combination of a gene encoding Chinook salmon growth hormone and a terminator gene from ocean pout (an eel-like creature) should have even the biggest of sceptics worried. A terminator gene means the fish have been genetically engineered to be sterile females, but only 95% of the salmon are guaranteed to be unable to reproduce. The fish are to be raised in land-based facilities in “a remote highland area” of Panama. Now, if we have learned anything from our attempts at containing farmed fish, we should know that eventually, these GM salmon can and will cross paths with wild salmon.
Any chance of these salmon escaping to the wild could greatly endanger our already depleted Atlantic salmon population. And to add fuel to fire, these fast-growing salmon could consume up to five times more food than non-GM farmed salmon. If you remember from my previous post Seafood: Is There Something Fishy About Fish Farms, salmon are carnivorous and rely on wild-harvested fish like anchovies and sardines for food, putting pressure on wild fish stocks.
How Will The Nutrient Profile Of Genetically Modified Salmon Differ?
The FDA reports that AquAdvantage GM salmon is nutritionally similar to Atlantic Salmon. I ask, could a salmon that is raised in a freshwater pen have the same nutrient profile as one that is swimming freely in the ocean? Even when being fed a diet of fish pellets as opposed to wild krill? Unfortunately there is not yet a reliable nutritional analysis, but I am almost certain that omega-3 fatty acid levels will be lacking, just as they are in conventionally farmed fish.
Don’t Like The Thought Of AquAdvantage Salmon? What You Can Do.
If you don’t think the risks are measuring up to the rewards, there are a few things we can do. First, shop at stores that have decided to boycott GM salmon.
Second, educate yourself and others on other food sources high in omega-3s. Remembering that we need ~650mg of EPA and DHA combined per day for the benefits of omega-3s, here are my top 3 contenders that are also environmentally friendly;
- Sardines – I know, I know… Gross. Ewww. Yuk. They may take a while to get used to looking at but these guys are as nutritious as they are delicious. Caught off the Canadian and American west coast they are a sustainable option as per Sea Choice. One serving of sardines will get you a ~1200mg of EPA and DHA,
- Sablefish/Black Cod – Another sustainable choice as per Sea Choice, just make sure they are caught off the B.C. Coastline and no further south. A 100g serve of Sablefish can offer you a whopping ~1800mg of EPA and DHA,
- Flaxseeds – The king of omega-3s in the plant kingdom, flaxseeds are a great alternative if you’re not into ocean creatures and critters. With 1 tbsp flaxseeds containing ~3.4g ALA (recommended intake 2-5g per day) you can’t go wrong. For more information check out the post How To Get Your Omega-3s – For The Vegetarians.
Third, avoid all salmon that is not labelled as wild. Remember no labelling laws for GM foods in Canada and the U.S. exist.
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.