by Marion Nestle
Nov 20 2015

FDA approves genetically modified salmon, and it won’t be labeled

The FDA has just approved AquAdvantage’s genetically engineered (GMO) Atlantic salmon.  The salmon will not have to be labeled as GMO.

The FDA has spent at least four years coming to this decision.  In previous posts, I’ve discussed.

What more to say?  Only that federal agencies are tone deaf about the GMO issue.

The FDA thinks that just because it judges the salmon safe to it, that automatically makes it acceptable to the public.

But as anyone who knows anything about risk communication can tell you, even if the salmon is safe to eat, the public may not want it for a host of other reasons.

The decision not to label the salmon, is also tone deaf.  The FDA bases its decision on its decision that genetic modification is not material, meaning that the GMO fish has a similar nutrient composition to wild or other farm-raised salmon.

But the FDA requires labeling of plenty of other non-material processes: made from concentrate, previously frozen, and irradiated, for example.

As far as I can tell, the FDA has learned nothing about risk communication in the 20 years since it approved GMO foods for production and consumption.  The protests are already underway, some from members of Congress.

Politico Pro Agriculture quotes Senator Lisa Murkowski (Dem-AK):

“We have made no bones about the fact that this is wrong, not only for Alaska and our wild salmon stocks…but around the country,” she said, adding: “At a bare minimum people around this country need to know what they are serving their families when it comes to seafood.”

Murkowski said the draft labeling guidance released today fell short of what consumers need and plans to “continue the fight” against the fish.

This will be interesting to watch.

The FDA documents


  • JW Ogden

    You are an expect in nutrition, what in your judgement is the nutritional profile of the GMO Salmon.

  • Steve Garvey

    Lisa Murkowski is a Republican, not a Democrat.

  • “Tone deaf,” indeed!

    This morning, I posted a link to an article about this on my Facebook page – the comments are unanimous in their disgust and frustration… I’ve NEVER seen my readers so consistently agreed on ANYTHING before.

  • Farmer with a Dell

    I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to having a choice of local salmon sources at the supermarket. This progress in aquaculture promises to relieve excessive pressure on our natural fisheries and it ought, in time, bring the cost of excellent quality fresh fish down into ranges average American families can afford. Imagine broadening the typical American table fare with this fish. It will revolutionize meal times much as did the evolution of abundant affordable chicken. Who would oppose this noteworthy progress in our food supply? Only those righteous people who would prefer we leave the fish and eat seaweed and algae instead, I suppose. Naysayers are welcome to all the pond scum they care to eat. I will happily dine on this wonderful new salmon!

  • Farmer with a Dell

    Oh, and I also do not need any special labels on it. Just let the value and quality speak for itself. That’s what I care about when grocery shopping. Food is food is food and I purchase the best value in order to discourage the boutique ripoffs that are so stylish today among foodies who apparently cannot discern the value of anything.

  • Farmer with a Dell

    Yeah, that’s what you’ll get in an echo chamber. Nobody out here in the real world really cares what you and your brainwashed little enclave think. Maybe you will attract the attention you crave when you finally get your own caliphate and begin oppressing people in earnest with your quasi-religious food laws.

  • I agree, this is progress and human ingenuity. People (or at least Americans, at first) will buy it because it’s cheap and will eventually be excellent. Of course, people don’t need this, and would be better off eating Vegan, but at least there aren’t a lot of unhealthy ways to eat salmon.

  • Pingback: Food Politics » FDA approves genetically ...()

  • Lisa Gillespie

    I just don’t get what the issue is with labeling GMO food.
    Buy what you want, but know what you buy.
    Am I missing something, here?

  • Pingback: GMO Salmon Approved in the U.S. | Red Apple Concepts Nutrition Blog()

  • Germaine Herrera

    I completely agree and think that the FDA should label GMO
    foods. These farms/fisheries are spending more money to have local/organic products for nothing now. Genetically engineered fish may help with the economy and create more product to be sold. However, the industry is creating excessively large animals, as with the chickens and cows, and it is not benefiting the current obesity epidemic. 5 ounces of salmon provides almost 70% of the required protein for a 2000 calorie diet and 270 calories. So why are we as a nation still promoting larger serving sizes? Salmon has always been viewed as a healthy product and a little more on the pricey end. Now I suspect that genetically engineered salmon will dwindle in price, and the wild/organic salmon will have no choice but to lower their prices (even though they are spending more money on their product). I agree with Dr. Nestle, that even if genetically engineered food is safe, it is not 100% acceptable to completely modify natural foods. Soon, all of the foods we eat will be created in a lab instead of a farm. Not labeling the genetically engineered fish is wrong and the American population has a right to make a choice when they go to the super market, as well as have a right to know what they are putting in their body.

  • mem_somerville

    Right. She’s a Republican protecting her local industry–the ones pulling all the fish out of the ocean.

  • Jason

    There’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s also nothing wrong with letting product producers decide for them selves how they want to label & market their products. If they think it’s best for their business to label the genetic modification of some ingredients, let them. If they don’t think it’s best for their business, then why should they be forced to?

  • Jason

    Yah… It would be a real shame if it became too expensive to overfish natural stocks of fish. A real shame, indeed.

  • Pingback: Weekly Tips - GMOs Good News and Bad News and Probiotics()

  • Novagene

    Christmas has come early! Thanks Marion Nestle, for gift-wrapping Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski as a prime example of pro-labeling, anti-GMO rhetoric that confirms what everyone already acknowledges but you usually manage to dodge in your narrative of false balance.

    Concluding your blog post by quoting Senator Murkowski whose ultimate goal is to have GE salmon banned, makes it loud and clear that the motivation for mandatory GE labeling isn’t really about some nebulous notion of consumer communication of non-material processes or a host of other issues, but is indeed the desire for GE products to carry a scarlet letter to help impel consumer scorn and ultimately prohibition.

    It’s not a matter of tone deafness; GE labeling proponents are quite vocal that they want biotechnology banned. The piercing anti-science signal in all the “host of other reasons” labeling noise is easy enough for anyone with a pair of ears to discern.

  • Novagene

    It’s not just industry protection masquerading as concern for the environment; Senator Murkowski also demonstrates a lack of science understanding.

    Alaska Business

    “When you’re splicing the genes of an Atlantic Salmon with an Ocean Pout that basically adds ‘antifreeze’ to its system, that sounds more like ‘Jurassic Park’-science than something I want on my plate,” said Murkowski.

    The Hill

    “We have scientists splicing fish DNA with an antifreeze-like chemical compound and considering feeding that to Americans,” Murkowski said. “That kind of idea didn’t work out so well in ‘Jurassic Park’ and I don’t think we should be going down that dangerous road with a perfect natural brain food like salmon.”

    Antifreeze proteins are only scary if someone assumes it’s the same antifreeze you pour into a car.

    There’s plenty more of that sort of silliness.

    It’s tragic comedy that Marion Nestle would quote anything Murkowski has to say as an example of rational GE labeling arguments.

  • hyperzombie

    “but at least there aren’t a lot of unhealthy ways to eat salmon.”

    Well give the Southerners some time, they will figure out a way to deep fry them with twinkie breading and a Mars bar stuffed inside.. The French Canadians will stuff salmon with cheese curds, slap a pound of fries on top and slather it with beef gravy and more cheese,,,Mmmm salmon poutine.

  • hyperzombie

    Ummm, it is exactly the same as salmon. All they did to this salmon was turn off a gene that told the salmon not to grow in the winter months. Which makes sense for a farm raised salmon because it gets fed all year.

  • Pingback: FDA approves genetically modified salmon, and it won’t be labeled | Our Green Nation()

  • JW Ogden

    That is what I want her to say. Anything beyond that is outside of her area of expertise.

  • Joseph Alexander

    Not labeling the genetically engineered fish is wrong and the American population has a right to make a choice when they go to the super market, as well as have a right to know what they are putting in their body.Snapback Caps