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Attack of the Frankenfish!

An AquAdvantage salmon in the background and a non-GE salmon in the foreground.
An AquAdvantage salmon in the background and a non-GE salmon in the foreground.
Photo from AquaBounty Technologies

It's not available yet, but once the FDA finalizes its assessment of AquAdvantage salmon, the genetically engineered fish may find its way to your grocery store fish counter. And you may have no idea that the fish you're eating has been modified with growth hormone regulating genes.

These genes allow salmon to grow all year, instead of their normal spring and summer growing season. The idea is to make the salmon grow faster, but not bigger, so normal-sized salmon would be available to harvest sooner, meaning more salmon on your dinner plate for less money.

The FDA's review of genetically engineered salmon is ongoing, but if it passes inspection, the AquAdvantage salmon would be the first genetically modified animal in the U.S. food supply. So what's the big deal with the so-called "frankenfish?"

It depends on who you talk to.

According to the Center for Food Safety, GE salmon could have a negative impact on wild salmon populations as well as sustainable fisheries. There are concerns that, should GE salmon accidentally find their way back into the wild, they could throw off the natural order of the food chain because they live longer and feed more efficiently than their wild cousins. No frankenfish have yet made their way into the wild, but researchers are already concerned with the possibility.

Incubator jars used to raise AquAdvantage salmon.
Incubator jars used to raise AquAdvantage salmon.
Photo from AquaBounty Technologies

Food safely advocates also worry about the effect that genetically modified food could have on humans. Though the FDA has maintained for years that the GE salmon is "highly unlikely to cause any significant effects on the environment" and that it is "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon," consumers still have their doubts.

Although they don't say who has conducted the research, the Center for Food Safety notes that some research suggests GE fish might be more susceptible to disease and therefore might contain higher amounts of antibiotics. It's not yet clear what kind of impact this would have on humans who consume the fish.

Many organizations like the Center for Food Safety have created petitions to ask grocery chains to commit to not selling genetically engineered salmon. According to a recent press release from the Center for Food Safety, Kroger is the only major grocery chain that has yet to agree not to sell GE fish. Representatives from the Center for Food Safety were unable to get Kroger to comment on the matter, but a local Kroger media contact told us that anything Kroger does in Texas is reflective of what Kroger does nationwide. And vice versa.

Joy Partain, the consumer affairs manager for Kroger gave us the following statement: "At this time, we have no intention of sourcing genetically modified salmon. It is important to note that genetically modified salmon is not sold in stores today and has not been approved by the FDA."

If Kroger has "no intention" of selling GE salmon, we wonder why they haven't taken a firm stance against it like other large grocery chains have.

Although consumers probably shouldn't freak out just yet, it is slightly disconcerting that the FDA will likely not require grocery stores to label GE fish. If Kroger does start selling GE salmon, customers will have no way to differentiate it from regular salmon. It will be labeled like any other fish, so if you're looking to avoid food that didn't come direct from Mother Nature, it's best to stick with anything labeled "wild" as opposed to "farm raised."


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