Safe Salmon


Fishing is one of my favorite pastimes. When I bait my hook and cast my line, walleye, northern pike, and lake trout tremble in fear. At least when they’re not ignoring me.

One of my goals in life is to fish for salmon. It’s on my bucket list. I’ve never caught a salmon, but I’ve eaten plenty.

Now, thanks to biotechnology, eating salmon may become a lot more convenient and affordable–a huge boon to seafood lovers and anybody else who would like to consume a very healthy source of protein.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of approving genetically modified salmon for people to eat. FDA scientists have determined that GM salmon is “as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon.” In the coming days, they will brief a panel of experts on their findings.

If the salmon receives the FDA’s sanction, it will almost certainly become the first genetically modified animal to reach our dinner plates.

I can hardly wait.

I’ve always liked salmon but I’ve eaten it more in recent years at the insistence of my doctors. They say that it’s good for my heart.

I’d probably eat even more salmon except that it isn’t the cheapest food around. The cost is high enough to keep demand down–and the result is that millions of Americans don’t eat as much of this tasty and heart-healthy fish as they would or should.

That’s why the FDA’s potential approval of GM salmon represents such an incredible breakthrough for consumers. The price of salmon will drop and more people than ever before will have an opportunity to enjoy a nutritious food that offers the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives.

Most salmon require three years to reach their 8-pound market weight. The reality is that they don’t grow very much in their first year and they don’t grow at all during the winter months.

Genetically enhanced salmon wipe out this inefficiency. They grow constantly, which means they reach their market weight in about half the time. They also consume about one-quarter less food, making them the very essence of sustainable food production.

Just as farmers going back thousands of years have cross-bred plants to make better crops, scientists have figured out how to raise better salmon. It involves taking part of a gene for cold-tolerance from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout, inserting it into the growth gene of a chinook salmon, and then placing the blended genetic material into the fertilized eggs of North Atlantic salmon.

The result is a North Atlantic salmon that grows faster than other North Atlantic salmon. And don’t worry: It doesn’t grow bigger. These fish won’t ever be featured on Animal Planet’s “River Monsters” show.

That hasn’t stopped the enemies of biotechnology from their yawn-inducing fits of hysteria. They oppose most scientific progress and this is no different. Even though millions of people eat food derived from biotechnology every day, they still insist on calling GM crops “Frankenfood.” With dreary predictability, they’re getting ready to wage war on what they call–you guessed it–“Frankenfish.”

But this is nonsense. For one thing, GM salmon populations will be kept separate from non-GM populations. They’ll be raised in landlocked hatcheries, not in ocean pens. In addition, they’ll be sterile. They’ll lack the ability to breed in the wild.

Most important, they’re entirely safe to eat. This is not a mere assertion, but a scientific consensus that the FDA is about to join. It’s backed up by more than ten years of rigorous investigation. The Massachusetts-based company that seeks the FDA’s approval initiated the process in 1995. So the FDA’s decision comes at the end of a very long road.

Consumers will love this fish because it’s a salmon. They won’t detect any difference in looks or flavor–just in price.

I plan on eating GM salmon as soon as I can. The fish will taste great and maybe it will even help me get to the day when I can remove salmon fishing from my bucket list.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer and avid fisherman, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology.

Dean Kleckner

Dean Kleckner

Deceased (1932-2015)

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