There is a reason commentators are referring to the new genetically modified salmon as Frankenfish. At hearings held recently, the FDA noted evidence of abnormalities detected in the fish, including “increased frequency of skeletal malformations, increased prevalence of jaw erosions and multi-systemic inflammation”. While such findings would seem to be cause for alarm, the FDA instead dismissed the abnormalities as being “within the range observed in rapid growth phenotypes of non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon.”
In other words, the abnormalities that were found in GMO salmon were consistent with those found in farmed salmon which had been genetically manipulated for accelerated growth through other means.
Does comparing GMO salmon to factory farmed fish instead of salmon found in their natural environment mean that GMO salmon are safe, or is this evidence an indictment of other factory farmed fish? The logic the FDA used is reminiscent of the studies that found MSG (monosodium glutamate) was safe because its side effects were not significantly worse than a control substance it was compared against. That control substance was aspartame.
A closer look at farmed salmon does not paint a picture of healthy fish. For example in Chile, where most of our factory-farmed salmon come from, up to 80 percent of the salmon suffer from a condition called screamer disease, where severe facial disfigurements lock their jaws permanently open.
In Norway, another major salmon exporter to the United States, “humpback” spinal compression deformities have been found in 70 percent of salmon farm operations. Twenty different types of spinal malformations have been repeatedly found in factory farmed Atlantic salmon – abnormalities which have been linked to the physiological stress of intensive production.
GMO salmon would be the first transgenic farm animal approved for human consumption. Approval could open up a floodgate of other genetically engineered animals, and perhaps a Pandora’s Box as well. What if, for example, huge cows were created which had to be delivered via Caesarian section? Already there are breeds of genetically defective “double muscled” created cattle.
Approval of GMO salmon would likely serve to further entrench unhealthy factory farm operations. Chickens have been bred for such rapid muscling to the extent that billions suffer in chronic pain every year from skeletal disorders, and many of them are unable to even walk. Hens lay so many eggs that they risk prolapse (laying their own uterus). Up to a quarter of dairy cows are clinically lame and turkeys are so top-heavy that they are incapable of physically mating.
Such animals exist today as a result of genetic manipulation. The creation of transgenic farm animals with genes that are modified through biotechnology would give agribusiness additional tools to stress animals beyond natural biological limits at the expense of their health and welfare.
Ironically, executives from the biotech company that invented GMO Salmon have argued that the list of health disorders their fish suffer from could be seen as an advantage because “any escapees from containment would be less capable of surviving.” According to the company, genetically modified fish grow at such a rate that the metabolic demands might make them less likely to create ecological havoc should they escape into the wild. However, previous studies have indicated just the opposite – finding instead that GMO salmon which escape in the wild would represent huge threats to native salmon populations.
Another major concern of GMO salmon and other GMO organisms is the possibility of transgenic DNA transferring to humans, as we have already seen with genetically modified crops. Despite the concerns, the FDA is widely expected to ultimately approve the Frankenfish salmon, and do so without requiring a GMO label.