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Mmm, Frankensalmon! Is it what’s next for dinner?

By Lisa Gosselin, September 24, 2010 - 12:09pm

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People, don’t hate me, but after listening to the Food and Drug Administration’s hearings this week on whether to allow genetically engineered salmon to be brought to market, I’m almost sold on what’s being called, in some circles, the “Frankenfish.”

I absolutely love salmon—salmon cakes, grilled salmon tacos... (OK, I’m already hungry). So when I heard that AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered super salmon matures early and can grow to market size in 18 months, instead of three years, I paid attention.

Related: 20+ Easy Salmon Recipes

I mean, why not? Salmon is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, loaded with healthy omega-3s—fatty acids that have been shown to do everything from reduce our risk of heart disease to combat depression. Think how much saner and healthier our country would be if more people ate salmon.

When it comes to buying salmon there are basically two choices on the market: farmed salmon and wild salmon. I’ve been hesitant to buy farmed salmon (all Atlantic salmon you buy is farmed), ever since I read The Wild Salmon Debate, David Dobbs’s piece in EatingWell Magazine, which describes how salmon farms—enclosed pens located at river mouths—are decimating wild salmon populations by spreading diseases. Farmed salmon is also on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of fish to avoid for environmental reasons.

Related: 6 of the healthiest fish to eat, 6 to avoid

While it’s not always easy to find wild salmon year-round at affordable prices (canned wild salmon is a great alternative), it’s been my preferred choice. Alaska’s wild-caught salmon are healthier (they pack 950 mg of omega-3s and carry few contaminants) and more sustainable than just about any other salmon fishery.

The newly developed genetically engineered salmon is grown using genes from a Chinook salmon to speed growth and an eel-like fish called a pout. At present, there’s no evidence that it will pose any more health risks than say, genetically modified corn, soy or the dozens of other enhanced-by-science foods that have appeared on our tables for the past 20 years. And the intent of AquaBounty Technologies is to grow sterile, female GM fish in inland closed pens in Panama, from eggs grown in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

So what’s stopping me from cheering for Frankensalmon? Just two not-so-little concerns:

One: Already the USDA is facing lawsuits this month from the Sierra Club and the Center for Food Safety, which claim that genetically modified sugar beets could contaminate nearby non-GM crops. Now if a sugar beet—which, last I checked, is not naturally very mobile—can cross into another field and wreak havoc with the natives, so to speak, how are we going to expect that a salmon (which evolved to cross oceans and swim hundreds of miles upstream to spawn) will never escape and compete with or contaminate wild populations?

Two: There’s the issue of what we feed these precocious and voracious new fish. As marine biologist and EatingWell contributor Carl Safina notes, the new engineered salmon can use food more efficiently than wild fish. But, as he has written, “Big carnivorous fish must be fed smaller fish that have been caught in the ocean and many of these nutrient-rich smaller fish—like herrings and sardines—that are turned into fish meal would be better used for human food.” And it makes a lot more sense for our own health, as well as the health of the oceans, for humans to eat smaller fish than big fish.

In short, if we allow GM salmon, are we adding yet a new potential threat to our already depleted fish populations?

So it’s because I love salmon—born-and-raised wild salmon that have swum in deep oceans and navigated their way back to their native streams—that I’m not going to jump on the Frankensalmon bandwagon. And if I can’t get or afford wild salmon? Maybe I’ll just open a can of little sardines for dinner instead—they have even more omega-3s, and are less than half the price.

Would you eat genetically engineered salmon? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Lisa Gosselin, Health Blog, Food & health news, Good choices

Lisa Gosselin
Lisa Gosselin is the former editorial director of EatingWell Media Group.

Lisa asks: Would you eat genetically engineered salmon?

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