Study Exposes AquaBounty’s Bogus Growth Claims on GMO Salmon

For those of you who have read the Mary Shelley novel “Frankenstein,” you remember that the name refers to the scientist Victor Frankenstein, not the monster he constructed from body parts found in the local cemetery. The story has captured the public’s imagination for nearly 200 years, and “franken” has become a common prefix—and a pejorative—for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are made with cut-and-pasted genetic material from different species of plants, animals and microorganisms.

GMO salmon is an Atlantic salmon whose DNA has been re-engineered with a “growth-hormone gene construct” made from genetic material of other fish. Photo credit: Steve Rhodes / Flickr

GMO salmon—or franken-fish, as it is sometimes called—is an Atlantic salmon whose DNA has been re-engineered with a “growth-hormone gene construct” made from genetic material of other fish. One of these fish, the ocean pout, is only as closely related to Atlantic salmon, taxonomically speaking, as a human is related to a porcupine or a platypus. This recombination of genetic material would never happen in nature.

Beyond being designed and engineered by humans and created in a laboratory, GMO salmon and Frankenstein’s monster may also share another defining feature—larger-than-normal proportions. AquaBounty Technologies, the company behind GMO salmon, has always insisted that its fish grow much faster than normal Atlantic salmon—but not larger. This is one of the most frequent claims the company makes—to journalists and even to financial regulators at the Securities Exchange Commission.

Protest march opposing FDA approval of GMO salmon, Market Street, San Francisco, Feb. 9, 2013. Photo credit: Steve Rhodes / Flickr

But, according to a recently released scientific review from the Canadian government, AquaBounty doesn’t have a shred of evidence supporting this claim. This is more than a little odd because AquaBounty calls GMO salmon the “most studied fish in the world.”

If it turns out that GMO salmon do grow larger than normal salmon, it would almost certainly provoke even further consumer opposition to the fish while also compromising the company’s pending risk assessment with the FDA. As Canadian government scientists note, a larger-than-normal Atlantic salmon would be able to eat larger-than-normal prey fish, and this expanded diet could expand the environmental impact of escaped GMO salmon.

Other important risk-assessment questions also emerge: What happens to the health of a GMO salmon that reaches ever-large proportions? What happens to the nutritional content of the fish for consumers? What happens to the hormone levels of this fish, which is engineered with a growth-hormone gene construct?

Again, we don’t know if GMO salmon do grow larger than normal salmon, but given AquaBounty’s track record of questionable claims, it needs to be checked out. The company’s claims about GMO salmon’s fast growth-rate have turned out to be bogus, as the preponderance of evidence indicates GMO salmon probably grow slower than conventional farmed salmon. Likewise, the company has long trumpeted its safe, biosecure production of GMO salmon, but independent sleuthing has revealed “lost” salmon, a major accidental disease outbreak and a $9,500 fine for failing to comply with environmental regulations.

If approved by the FDA, AquaBounty’s salmon will be the first GMO animal to enter the food supply anywhere in the world, so it’s scary to realize how little the world knows about the basic biology of this fish—a situation that is unlikely to be addressed if the FDA continues to ignore its role as a science-based regulator.

While there are sizable gaps in what we know about this fish, there is still plenty of evidence showing that AquaBounty’s salmon is totally unnecessary for our food system, presenting substantial risks to the environment and consumers but no benefits.

EcoWatch initially posted this blog with numerous editorial changes not authorized by the author. We deeply regret the error and have restored the blog to its initial content.


3 Companies Say ‘No’ to GMO Arctic Apples

28 Most Inspiring Urban Agriculture Projects Around the World

86 Food Products Contain Possible Cancer-Causing Additive

Lawsuits Mount Against Monsanto’s ‘Cancer-Causing’ Weedkiller

Show Comments ()

Three Outlandish Ideas to Cool the Planet

By Jeremy Deaton

Climate change is a big, ugly, unwieldy problem, and it's getting worse by the day. Emissions are rising. Ice is melting, and virtually no one is taking the carbon crisis as seriously as the issue demands. Countries need to radically overhaul their energy systems in just a few short decades, replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy. Even if countries overcome the political obstacles necessary to meet that aim, they can expect heat waves, drought and storms unseen in the history of human civilization and enough flooding to submerge Miami Beach.

Keep reading... Show less

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit

An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.

Keep reading... Show less
Elephant family in Kenya. Nzomo Victor / Flickr

Why Trump’s New Trophy Hunting Council Is a Disaster

By Elly Pepper

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters' ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council's mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn't want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

Keep reading... Show less
A robot bee from a season three episode of Black Mirror on Netflix

Walmart Files Patent for Robot Bees

With the mass die-off of bees spelling trouble for agriculture, the world's largest retailer has filed patents for the use of "unmanned vehicles," or drones, to aid with pollination and crop production.

In U.S. Patent Office documents made public last week, Walmart has applied for six patents on drones designed to identify pest damage, spray pesticides and pollinate plants.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!