Media watch: Spotlight’s on GM salmon


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
September 15, 2010

Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s preliminary determination early this month that genetically modified salmon is safe to eat, mainstream media outlets across the globe are eating up the controversy.

At stake is the approval of AquAdvantage® Salmon, a technology developed by AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass., allowing Atlantic salmon to grow to market size of about 8 pounds in just 18 months, compared to the standard 36 months.

The FDA’s move has drawn the interest of nearly every major U.S. media outlets, including the Washington PostNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA Today and NPR.

It’s also taking on a life of its own internationally. The CBC and New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal reported that opposition to GM salmon is building, as the International Salmon Farmers Association and salmon farmer Cooke Aquaculture are against it. Even the United Kingdom’s The Guardian took a stab at the topic in a 900-word column. ran an editorial by celebrity chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas titled, “Say no to genetically engineered salmon.” Said Moonen, “I don’t trust this fish. It is an overweight fish being introduced to an already obese society.”

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage® Salmon is controversial mainly because, if approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal to enter the U.S. food supply and could open the door to approval of other genetically modified animal foods.

Coverage of the subject in the mainstream media has been mixed so far. While some media outlets offer a fairly balanced look at genetically modified salmon, including the Washington Post and New York Times, others simply focus on the opposition and sensationalize their phrasing, calling the fish everything from “lab creation” to “mutant” to the ever-popular “Frankenfish.”

Though the mainstream media is doing a pretty good job of explaining the food-safety aspect, what’s getting lost in the onslaught of coverage is that the salmon would be grown on land in closed-containment systems and only sterile females would be sold, so the fish wouldn’t pose a threat to wild salmon populations.

Expect coverage of the subject to only snowball into next week and beyond. On Thursday, a coalition of consumer, environmental and animal-rights groups staged a rally in front of the White House in opposition of GM salmon. Ben & Jerry’s gave away “Something’s Fishy” ice cream, formerly Phish Food, in honor of the protest — a sure headline grabber.

And on Sunday and Monday, the FDA is holding a meeting and public hearing on genetically modified salmon near Washington, D.C., which is certain to generate even more mainstream media coverage.

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