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Ethicist: There's Nothing Fishy About GMO Salmon

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan has thought long and hard about GM fish. He thinks you should buy it.

A genetically modified fish is about to start a long swim which will end in a year or two at your grocery store. Would you buy it to feed to you and your family? I think you should. It is the ethically responsible thing to do.

But the big question is will you be able to know what you can buy. The major question facing the AquaAdvantage GMO salmon is how it will be labeled when it hits the marketplace.

The Food and Drug Administration has spent 20 years wrestling with the decision to permit the sale of the GMO salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies based in Maynard, Massachusetts. Their conclusion is that the fish is safe to eat.

The safety of the fish never was in doubt.

The two extra genes in the salmon come from other fish: the Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel-like fish called an ocean pout. Typical Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone for only part of the year. The genetic modification from the other fish let the salmon make growth hormone all year long so it grows more quickly. Both genes are natural to fish and do not affect the safety of the flesh.

Why should you eat it? We are overfishing salmon now. It may become extinct if we don’t stop eating so much, especially given the challenges of climate change. The whole point of genetically modifying salmon is to user fewer resources. They grow faster, using less food, than wild salmon.

And that should make GM salmon cheaper.

Why should the company label it? Many consumers and chefs distrust GMOs. Not labeling the fish only worsens the suspicion that there is something fishy about genetically engineered salmon. The best way to deal with this fear is to label the product proudly and then advertise why it’s desirable to buy it.

So when the salmon does reach stores, look for it and buy it. That will be much easier if it is clearly labeled.