Perspectives: FDA approves 1st GM animal (fast growing salmon) to eat

AquaAdvantage Salmon

GM Salmon?, FDA image

After a seemingly endless period of review, the FDA has approved the genetically modified (GM) AquaBounty salmon for sale and consumption.

I don’t see any particular reason to think that this GM fish as a food would pose any significant health risks to people. The fish’s hypothetical risk to the ecosystem is greatly reduced by restrictions on where it can be grown to areas away from natural waterways. Note that it cannot be grown anywhere in the US at present.

It’s also worth pointing out that the fish are sterile so even if by some weird fluke they ended up in the wild (e.g. some bozo intentionally set them “free” in a river feeding into the ocean), there would be a huge obstacle to them having negative environmental impact. Some rare GM fish that escaped both captivity and the sterility or some other unpredicted event would have to happen. Zero risk? No, but it seems very low. And for that matter, what exactly is zero risk? Certainly not unmodified foods that can cause allergies, etc.

The AquaBounty salmon, called AquaAdvantage, grow better than wild salmon due to a sustained period of growth hormone production via genetic modification. The FDA does not view the salmon as meaningfully different than wild fish in terms of safety or nutrition so no labeling will be required.

Will consumers eat it? Will we all eat enough of it to make a profit for the company and sustain the product? Time will tell.

Another key aspect to this story is that the corporate owner of AquaBounty is the genetic engineering company Intrexon (XON), which is also interested in human genetic modification.

A number of companies interested in both cloning and genetic modification are working (or have goals toward working) in both animals and humans. I’m not quite sure how to view that overlap. Concerning? Or a logical and productive synergism possible?

14 thoughts on “Perspectives: FDA approves 1st GM animal (fast growing salmon) to eat

  1. Helen Briggs, BBC article,

    mentions, “The FDA ruled that the salmon must be raised in tanks on land at only two facilities in Canada and Panama. It will not be bred or raised in the US.” The photo at the BBC article includes a smaller fish – no caption so I can only guess the smaller fish is a wildtype salmon of the same age.


    At a smaller scale, a DIY genetic engineering kit for making glow in the dark E. coli was announced, see


  2. Dr. Knoepfler I think I have to unleash the Nutrition MD’s and Phd”s on you. I do not know of one that would accept this franken fish. How do you think this compares to the doings of Montsanto?

  3. The no-labelling policy is clearly done in the interest of the company – not the public. How strong are the data that the fish growth hormone does not affect humans? What is the effect of abnormally long growth hormone production on other substances produced by the fish body?

    • I am concerned about both the consumer and the environment. There are studies outside of the FDA that indicate that these fish are not safe for human consumption. These indicate that there is a high allergy potential because of elevated IGF-1 levels (growth hormone). This is linked to colon, prostrate and breast cancers.
      These ‘franken’ fish are composed of an Atlantic Salmon spliced with genes from eel pout and growth hormone from a Chinook salmon. The result in a fish that grows twice as fast and if one should escape into the wild it could be a serious insult into the wild population. Controlling this aspect is extremely difficult.
      GMO salmon consume 5X more food that the wild variety and they are more aggressive. They provide less omeg-3 fatty acids. Without GMO labeling, these fish would be indistinguishable from the farmed or wild salmons and consumers would not be able to make an informed choice. I am positive that there will be a strong backlash from consumer groups

  4. @Pat,
    The hormone issue is, in my researching the literature out there on this, the thing that caught my attention as a possible concern, but I haven’t seen much to raise red flags. Have you? Paul

  5. As I remember, the company was able to exploit a legal loophole with these fish (I remember reading this a couple years ago). The constructs, potentially including copy number as well, never had to be disclosed as they legally constituted veterinary technology and thus could be considered a trade secret. This was from a Nature News post, and I am not a lawyer.

    If this is true, I see no reason (without actual data) that these fish are sterile. However, the much bigger concern is, even if they are sterile, they could crash wild populations if they escape simply by outcompeting for food.

    • anonymous stem cell repairman wrote:
      As I remember, the company was able to exploit a legal loophole with these fish (I remember reading this a couple years ago). The constructs, potentially including copy number as well, never had to be disclosed as they legally constituted veterinary technology and thus could be considered a trade secret. This was from a Nature News post, and I am not a lawyer.
      If this is true, I see no reason (without actual data) that these fish are sterile. However, the much bigger concern is, even if they are sterile, they could crash wild populations if they escape simply by outcompeting for food.


      Copy number of trangenes:

      Could Go FISHing or LMP-PCR for the presence of the transgenes and their copy numbers. See for example,
      Chromosomal differences between European and North American Atlantic salmon discovered by linkage mapping and supported by fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis

      Sounds to me like there is an opportunity for you to make money on POP (point of purchase) or POE (point of eating) FISHing kits to identify AquaBounty fish. For that matter, in two years, the you could sequence before you buy,

      An even simpler, though no-revenue-through-selling-kits, way for you to avoid eating transgenic salmon is: don’t eat any salmon. You could instead stick with Patagonian toothfish,
      until they are driven to extinction by overfishing.

      Sterile FISH: the company may find it is less expensive to ship dead fish from their on land sites. May be even less expensive to ship fillets – no reproductive parts.

      Escape? From on land tanks – that may be very far from a coast or river. The company should probably locate its factories next to railroard, airport, warehouse, UPS and FedEx sites.

  6. Hi Jean,
    Are you suggesting IGF-1 or GH are allergens?

    This paper does not find any evidence of IgE’s to either:

    Nakamura 2009 Regul Toxicol Pharmacol.
    Comparative study of GH-transgenic and non-transgenic amago salmon (Oncorhynchus masou ishikawae) allergenicity and proteomic analysis of amago salmon allergens.
    “… The allergenome analysis of two fish-allergic patients allowed us to identify several IgE-binding proteins in amago salmon, including parvalbumin, triose-phosphate isomerase, fructose-bisphosphate aldolase A, and serum albumin, and there were no qualitative differences in these proteins between GM and non-GM-amago salmons. These results indicate that amago salmon endogenous allergen expression does not seem to be altered by genetic modification.”

    Cool – another ome: allergenome.

    Endogenous IGF-1 may be immunosuppressive through monocytes and/or Tregs

    Looking in PubMed, I see recent papers with data that IGF-1 is immunosuppressive, possibly involving IGF-1R on Tregs. I also included a couple of pro-inflammatory references, but NOT including any of several that report IGF-1 can sensitize mast cells and basophils to secretegogues … I suspect many molecules can do this.

    Ge 2015 Sci Rep (open access)
    Insulin-like growth factor-1 endues monocytes with immune suppressive ability to inhibit inflammation in the intestine.
    (note: Mos = monocytes) “… The results showed that mouse IECs produced IGF1, which could be up regulated by exposure to CpG-ODN (CpG-oligodeoxynueleotides) in the culture. Culture the CpG-ODN-primed IEC cells and Mos or exposure of Mos to IGF1 in the culture induced the Mos to express IL-10. The IGF1-primed Mos showed the immune suppressive effect on inhibiting the immune inflammation in the mouse colon. In conclusion, the IGF1-primed Mos are capable of suppressing immune inflammation in the intestine.”

    Johannesson 2014 Dis Model Mech
    Insulin-like growth factor-1 induces regulatory T cell-mediated suppression of allergic contact dermatitis in mice.
    “Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is triggered by an aberrant hyperinflammatory immune response to innocuous chemical compounds and ranks as the world’s most prevalent occupational skin condition. Although a variety of immune effector cells are activated during ACD, regulatory T (Treg) cells are crucial in controlling the resulting inflammation. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) regulates cell proliferation and differentiation and accelerates wound healing and regeneration in several organs including the skin. Recently IGF-1has also been implicated in protection from autoimmune inflammation by expansion of Treg cells. Here, we demonstrate that ectopic expression of IGF-1 in mouse skin suppresses ACD in a Treg cell-specific manner, increasing the number of Foxp3+ Treg cells in the affected area and stimulating lymphocyte production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 10. Similar therapeutic effects can be achieved with systemic or topical delivery of IGF-1, implicating this growth factor as a promising new therapeutic option for the treatment of ACD.”.
    Introduction: “… In line with a commonly seen cross-talk between the endocrine and the immune system, IGF-1 has also been shown to ameliorate autoimmune conditions …” and “… We document reduced inflammation through ear swelling, histology, cytokine expression and number of Treg cells and verify a direct effect of IGF-1 on Treg cells by conditional genetic deletion of the IGF-1 receptor (IGF-1R). … “.

    Insulin-like growth factor-1 stimulates regulatory T cells and suppresses autoimmune disease. Bilbao D, Luciani L, Johannesson B, Piszczek A, Rosenthal N. EMBO Mol Med. 2014 Oct 22;6(11):1423-35. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201303376. PMID: 25339185 (paper mentions a patent application on this).

    Anguela 2013 Diabetes
    Nonviral-mediated hepatic expression of IGF-I increases Treg levels and suppresses autoimmune diabetes in mice.
    “Hence, the liver could be manipulated to treat or prevent diabetes onset through expression of key genes. IGF-I may be an immunomodulatory candidate because it prevents autoimmune diabetes when expressed in β cells or subcutaneously injected. Here, we demonstrate that transient, plasmid-derived IGF-I expression in mouse liver suppressed autoimmune diabetes progression.”.

    I am not suggestion IGF-1 is always good, see for examples,

    Chen 2011 Rheumatol Int
    Elevated serum heme oxygenase-1 and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels in patients with Henoch-Schonlein purpura

    Lee 2014 Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol
    Targeting insulin-like growth factor-I and insulin-like growth factor-binding protein-3 signaling pathways. A novel therapeutic approach for asthma
    “IGF-I enhances subepithelial fibrosis, airway inflammation, airway hyperresponsiveness, and airway smooth muscle hyperplasia by interacting with various inflammatory mediators and complex signaling pathways, such as intercellular adhesion molecule-1, and the hypoxia-inducible factor/vascular endothelial growth factor axis.”.

  7. I just love the suggestion for POP or POE kits. Not eating salmon???? All the nutritionist and integrative doctors will have difficulty with this. There were soo many groups against this move. I can hardly believe that is now a done deal. And the company behind this works on human genetic alterations.

  8. Prominent nutritionists have a quote “you are what you eat ate”. They preach organic, non GMO foods. Presently, the FDA claims that GE salmon would be adapted to feeding on “synthetic diets” but fail to explain what these would entail. They (FDA) do state that farmed salmon can be fed such things as poultry byproducts and could include feathers, necks, intestines, and GMO soy and canola oils. Also, keep in mind that in 2009 the Prince Edward facility was contaminated with ISA==Infectious Salmon Anemia-a deadly flue. The AquaBounty company lost its fish health certificate that was not reinstated until 11/2011. Do we really know the consequences of GE salmon?

  9. George:

    Yes, of course one could do that. The point is though that the company used a loophole to get around doing that. I feel like more scrutiny was applied to the Flavr savr tomato (which itself was already crippled by having to use one of the worse seed stocks in terms of “tastes like a tomato”) than to this fish.

    “Escape” doesn’t just consider the fish. Human factor comes into this as well.


    The numbers of places, both academic and industry, that fail to understand the value of actually having a dedicated fishkeeper (that was a active hobbyist first) that actually cares about fish is staggering. Just having a vet and saying “uh huh, checked that box off” isn’t good enough in most cases. The stock response would be hand-waving and “we move in different circles, yadda, yadda, yadda, no way to have prevented this,” but that’s a cop-out.

Leave a Reply