Policy Update

Genetically Modified Salmon May Soon be on Dinner Plates, FDA Ruling Nears



NCEL Point of Contact

Ruth Musgrave
Conservation Senior Advisor


Labeling, other regulations required by some states

FDA nears ruling on genetically engineered salmon, aka Frankenfish

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to rule on whether or not to approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption. Just last week, FDA scientists said that the genetically altered salmon that is being evaluated is safe to eat and does not pose a threat to the environment, according to a September 7, 2010 Washington Post article.

A Massachusetts company, AquaBounty Technologies, is seeking approval to sell for the dinner table a genetically modified farmed salmon that has been engineered to grow at twice the rate as a regular farmed salmon. The company, which markets the salmon as AquaAdvantage Salmon, has taken a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and joined it with a gene from an ocean pout, an eel which has anti-freeze properties allowing it to grow in cold environments. The genetic material is then injected into the eggs of Atlantic salmon, which allows it to produce growth hormone year-round as opposed to a conventional salmon which stops growing in cold weather. This rapid growth would reduce a fish farmer’s costs and greatly increase production, according to the company.

However, some scientists, restaurant chefs, consumers, fish farmers, and environmentalists are concerned with the potential decision and process FDA is using to make its determination. If the “Frankenfish”, which critics call it, is approved some fish farmers fear the negative reaction that consumers may have toward all farmed salmon. Environmentalists and consumer groups are concerned that if the modified salmon finds its way into the ocean, it will threaten wild salmon populations. According to The Washington Post article, “the FDA is evaluating the fish as if it were a new veterinary drug, which means that the agency’s deliberations are behind closed doors and that AquaBounty can claim much of the research and other supporting data it supplies to the FDA is confidential.”

If the FDA approves AquaAdvantage Salmon, it will then decide if additional labeling requirements are appropriate, such as labeling the food as genetically modified.

In Alaska, former State Senator and NCEL participant Kim Elton successfully sponsored legislation, SB25, in 2005 that requires Alaska retailers to identify and label foods containing fish and shellfish, or fish and shellfish products, which have been genetically modified. (ALASKA, SB25, 2005:http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill_text.asp?hsid=SB0025Z&session=24)

According to an article in The Guardian, AquaBounty says that if the FDA approves the salmon it will be raised in in-land waters to ensure the modified salmon do not find their way into the ocean. Some states, including California, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington have passed laws banning the release of GM fish in some or all state waters.

California’s law, SB245 (2003), sponsored by former State Senator and NCEL participant Byron Sher prohibits farming salmon, genetically modified fish, or other exotic fish in waters of the Pacific Ocean that are regulated by the state. (CALIFORNIA SB245,(2003):http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/03-04/bill/sen/sb_0201-0250/sb_245_bill_20031012_chaptered.html)

Maryland’s law, HB189 (2001), which was sponsored by NCEL participant Delegate Dan Morhaim and co-sponsored by NCEL President Delegate Jim Hubbard was signed into law in 2001. Under Maryland’s law, GM fish cannot be raised unless they are in ponds or lakes that do not connect to other state waterways, and growers have to makes sure their ponds are secure so that fish cannot escape. (MARYLAND HB189, (2001): http://mlis.state.md.us/2001rs/billfile/hb0189.htm)

Michigan’s law, SB226 (2004), defines genetically engineered organisms and empowers the Department of Natural Resources to adopt rules to prohibit their release into state waters. It also authorizes the department to grant permits and establishes penalties for violating the law such as fines, prison time, and possible natural resource damages. MICHIGAN SB226, (2004):http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2003-2004/publicact/pdf/2003-PA-0270.pdf)

Minnesota’s law, 18F.01-.13, which was passed in the early 1990’s and not specific to fish, establishes a permit for the release of certain genetically engineered agriculturally related organisms in order to protect humans and the environment from the potential for significant adverse effects of those releases. (MINNESOTA 18F.01-.13: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=18F)

Mississippi’s law, 79-22-9, passed in 1990’s, requires fish farmers to obtain a permit for raising genetically modified aquatic plants and animals. (MISSISSIPPI 79-22-9:http://michie.com/mississippi/lpExt.dll?f=templates&eMail=Y&fn=main-h.htm&cp=mscode/1a88e/1b72d/1b743)

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Game administrative law (635-007-0595), in place since 2004, prohibits the release of transgenic fish into locations where such fish may gain access to wild fish populations. (OREGON 635-007-0595:http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/rules/OARS_600/OAR_635/635_007.html)

Washington’s Fish & Wildlife regulations, WAC 220-76-100, adopted in 2003 prohibit the use of any genetically modified fish in aquatic farming. (WASHINGTON 220-76-100:http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=220-76-100)

Wisconsin’s law, 146.60, which is not specific to fish, requires a Department review and public notification before someone can release a genetically modified organisms into the environment. (WISCONSIN 146.60: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/statutes/Stat0146.pdf)

Additional Resources:
The Washington Post article, “FDA nears approval as food of genetically altered salmon”, September 7, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/06/AR2010090603223.html

“Genetically Engineered Fish and Seafood,” Congressional Research Services, 1 July 2005,http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/crs/RL32974.pdf

Chart of State Activity Regarding GM Fish,http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/GEFishStateActionChart.pdf

The Center for Food Safety, http://truefoodnow.org/

“GM salmon may go on sale in US after public consultation,” The Guardian, August 25, 2010,http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/25/gm-salmon-us-fda-consultation (includes photo of AquaAdvantage salmon)

US Food & Drug Administration documents:http://www.fda.gov/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/VeterinaryMedicineAdvisoryCommittee/ucm201810.htm

AquaBounty Technologies: http://www.aquabounty.com/