What we don’t know can’t hurt us, right?
Perhaps, and perhaps not. We just don’t know.
The FDA recently approved AquAvantage salmon, salmon that has been genetically engineered to grow more rapidly than its natural farm-raised Atlantic counterparts. According to the Food and Drug Administration, it does so because it contains a recombinant DNA (rDNA) construct that is composed of the growth hormone gene taken from Chinook salmon under the control of a promoter, a sequence of DNA that turns on the expression of a gene, from another type of fish called an ocean pout. Interestingly, this salmon was reviewed by the FDA as a drug, not a food product, because the rDNA construct introduced into the animal meets the definition of a drug.
Because GMO foods are not legally required to be labeled in the United States, it will be impossible to the naked eye to determine whether farm-raised salmon bought at grocery stores is GMO or not. Manufacterers who voluntarily wish to label their products are genetically modified or not genetically modified are allowed to do so, as long as the labeling is truthful. It seems unlikely that genetically engineered products would be voluntarily labeled as such though. Fortunately, under the FDA’s approval, AquAdvantage salmon are subject to stringent conditions to prevent the possibility of escape into the wild, which means it is possible to avoid eating genetically engineered salmon for those who wish.
As someone who has always been wary of genetically modified organism, this is upsetting. Whether or not GM organisms are produced and sold on the market isn’t the issue. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know the long term effects, and while in this current state of experimentation, it seems pertinent to give consumers—particularly those who can’t always afford certified organic foods or wild-caught fish—the option to make the decision for themselves and those they feed.
This FDA approval brings up one degree further into a state of genetic uncertainty. Commonplace GMO foods could be completely harmless, or they could bring forth genetic damage that have been seen in places whether pesticide use is prevalent, such as Argentina, children whose parents have been exposed to high levels of the pesticides are remarkably more likely to suffer irreversible genetic damage present at birth, which can by physically seen as well as hidden beneath the skin.
The evaluation of environmental impacts conducted by the FDA ruled that the AquAvantage salmon will have no significant impact on the ecosystem, if the genetically engineered salmon or eggs are completely contained.
Only time will tell the impact of AquAvantage.