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A Peak into the Life of Salmon: Wild, Farmed, and Genetically Engineered

Image courtesy of: action.freshthemovie.com

When I sat down to write about GE salmon, I knew very little about the life of this popular fish.

In America, over 500,000 pounds of salmon is consumed a year, third to shrimp and canned tuna. It’s easy for consumers to conjure up an old, crusty fisherman decked out in a rain-slicker catching their salmon straight from the ocean but in reality most salmon are farmed in a controlled environment.

Recently the FDA has taken steps to approve genetically engineered (GE) salmon—the first GE animal for human consumption. Expected to pass after April 26th, 2013, there are many trying to halt the approval. Once concern is that GE salmon will be raised similarly to farmed salmon-in overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane cages. Another concern is the potential harmful effects on wild salmon populations and human health.

Salmon farms choose certain Atlantic salmon for their good traits. When they are almost sexually mature, their eggs and sperm are taken and fertilized in hatching trays. Once the eggs hatch they are moved to tanks, or sea pens. These cages, made from large nets and suspended from a series of anchored structures in the sea, are where the salmon remain until they are ready for harvest.

Salmon farmers claim that their fish are healthier and cheaper than wild-caught salmon, giving the consumer a well-priced, consistent, and high quality product.  However, there are several concerns about the negative impact of farmed salmon.

A major concern is toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, being passed from wild fish to farmed salmon to the consumer. Another concern is the destruction of the seabed beneath salmon farms due to pollution created by salmon farms. Finally, as a product of their close quarters, lice, parasites, and deadly viruses either kill or sicken both farmed salmon and the wild salmon that come in close contact with the farms. Though farmed salmon are given antibiotics, there is recent evidence viruses may be developing resistance.

Chile, a leader in the farmed salmon industry, has experienced the devastation a virus can bring to salmon farms. In 2006, a lethal virus called infectious salmon anaemia, or ISA, killed thousands of fish. The industry lost over $2 billion and laid-off over 26,000 workers. A major reason ISA spread so quickly was because multiple farms were placed too close together.

To prevent future outbreaks, salmon farms must be kept further apart. Some famers have even switched over to a closed containment system. By keeping salmon in closed containers on land, the external environment is spared their pollution and disease. Those who oppose sea pen farming agree that using a closed containment system is a good solution. GE salmon will be raised in similar ways to their farmed counterparts so there are similar concerns.

AquAdvantage Technologies, a biotechnology company located in Massachusetts, has taken a hormone from the Pacific Chinook and a gene from an eel-like fish, the Ocean Pout, to create a new salmon that gets bigger, faster. This saves the salmon farms money on feed and allows them to produce more fish in a shorter time span. The salmon eggs will be raised in the US and then shipped to Canada and Panama to live out their life in sea pens at salmon farms. Like GE crops, salmon can be sold in the marketplace with no label denoting its GE status.

Food is no longer just a source of nourishment, but a commodity-a marketable product that is produced to satisfy consumer demand. It is predicted that consumer demand for salmon will increase 40 percent by 2030. Unless we work to change our view of our food system, implement sustainable practices to preserve wild salmon, and cultivate cleaner, more humane fish farms GE salmon may be an inevitable choice in the future.

Here’s what you can do:

-Stop consuming Atlantic salmon

-If you consume salmon, make sure it is sustainable

-Support fisherman who fish sustainably

-Eat regionally

-Sign a petition to stop GE Salmon

-Stay informed and share what you know with your loved ones and community

(Originally published on Food Politic on Feb 25, 2013)




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