The Truth About Salmon

On today’s Food as Medicine, we dive into all things salmon, including wild vs. farm-raised, the difference between the three healthiest kinds of Alaskan salmon, and the newly FDA-approved genetically modified salmon that currently does not require labeling.

GMO Salmon

AquaBounty Technologies is a company that has been genetically modifying Atlantic salmon for quite a few years now. They developed a new type of genetically modified salmon they call AquAdvantage salmon.

They created this GMO salmon by modifying growth hormone-regulating genes in Pacific Chinook salmon (also known as King salmon) and mixing those modified genes with the genes of ocean pout (an eel-like fish). They then added them to Atlantic salmon’s existing 40,000 genes to create a new fish that grows year round (versus just in the spring and summer), grows to full market size in half the time of wild salmon (16-18 months vs. three years), all while surviving twice as long.

So we will soon have a growth hormone-manipulated Frankenfish on our plates that is part Atlantic salmon, part eel, and part King salmon, and we won’t even know about it because labeling is currently not required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As mentioned, this is not a new technology per se, this aquaculture technology has been growing at a rate of 9%/year since the 70s.

While the FDA says there is no “material” or “biologically relevant” difference in this GMO salmon when compared to regular Atlantic salmon (as their defense for not labeling it), we would like to see that defined further.

Perhaps the macronutrient profile is the same, meaning grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrate ratio per serving, but what about key micronutrients that create and maintain good or poor health?

We would like to see a full profile of testing of all of the vitamins, especially the fat-soluble vitamins, the minerals, and the fatty acid profile to make the true comparison. We would also like to see clinical trials done on the potential effects of this salmon on human hormones since they have been modified to grow faster, as well as its direct effect on our gut bacteria when compared to wild (not Atlantic which is what it’s compared to now) salmon.

Only after that has been done, can GMO salmon truly be evaluated.

We are of the belief that messing with nature in this way gets us in trouble and that this technology is guilty until proven innocent.

We would like to see the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looking out better for the American public by at least requiring this salmon to be labeled so that we have the choice to consume it or not.

Kudos to Costco, Safeway, and Target – three key retailers who have publicly announced that they will refuse to carry GMO salmon.

A Fisherman’s Perspective

We like to stock up on frozen wild salmon straight from the fishermen at Bristol Bay when they get back from Alaska. You can fill in with Vital Choice seafood or at local fish shops or Costco when needed.


My friend Jarret runs Bristol Bay and comes from generations of fishermen. We met a while back when I last did a fish and mercury episode.

He is filled with passion and courage because these guys brave unbelievable conditions and risk their lives to bring us the wonderful food that is wild Alaskan salmon. Meanwhile, others are creating this food in a laboratory…

Jarret and I talked about how wild salmon is a very well managed, naturally sustainable resource, so we don’t see the need for this GMO salmon (it is simply for profit) if we just eat our beloved wild salmon in moderation, in season, and work with nature to replenish it.

When I asked Jarret what he felt about GMO salmon, here’s what he said:

“Apparently, the natural progression of years in the ocean, swimming back to the home creek, spawning upriver, is just too much of a pain. It takes too long. Instead, AquaBounty has created a hybrid Atlantic salmon-Chinook salmon with just a sprinkle of a gene from an eel-like ocean pout, which “keeps a vital growth hormone activated rather than shutting it down after a certain point” so the fish grow twice as fast.

The Food and Drug Administration has been reviewing this “salmon” for some time. In April 2012, it wrote a report on the product’s safety. What would it say? How could something genetically modified to grow faster affect people who ate it? Inquiring minds would have to wait.

Europe has required all foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled accordingly since 1997. Fifty countries, including China and Russia, require food manufacturers to label GMOs. Forty percent of the world's population can find out if it is feeding its families altered foods.

In 2012, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act was on the ballot. It was simple: “The initiative would simply require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients.”

It seemed like a no-brainer because food labels already have to include calories, sugar, fats, sodium, and more.

Why are we telling you? You read labels every time you go to the grocery store.

Monsanto and agriculture corporations spent $45 million to defeat the California initiative. Why? Because they apparently can't compete in a “free market” with fully informed consumers. Shoppers prefer food that comes from fields rather than laboratories, at least genetically speaking.

Most Americans don't realize more than 60 percent of what is already on store shelves has been altered.

There’s no way on God's green earth that the market for wild Alaskan salmon won't be affected by these decisions. AquaBounty’s whole point is to undercut fishermen and processors. It costs more to run a boat, brave the seas, and harvest natural fish runs than to set up swimming pools in a field, throw in some feed and watch the sea monkeys grow.

To add insult to injury, we can't label Bristol Bay sockeye or Copper River kings as “organic.” Federal agriculture standards won't permit it because we can't prove that everything our fish eat in the rivers and ocean is organic. But a fish farm that feeds “organic pellets” to its pet salmon can use that label. As a result, our truly organic wild salmon will have to compete with the organic semi-salmon, and it’s only the genetically modified fish that can sport a label suggesting they lived the way nature intended.

This issue should have never been a political one. Protecting our salmon is not a partisan issue for most Alaskans.

Next year’s Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast calls for more than 50 million fish to return, with 30 million of them expected to reach the plates of people all over the world. On the long list of environmental issues to consider, we now have to contend with the FDA’s bad policymaking.

Friends don’t let friends eat farmed or Frankenfish.”

Wild Caught vs. Farm Raised

Now on to the debate of farmed-raised versus wild salmon (when did food get so darn complicated??? Fish just used to be fish!).

While farm-raised salmon is fattier than wild salmon, most of the time it can be full of poor quality omega 6 fatty acids instead of life-giving anti-inflammatory omega 3s.

Quarters are close and can require antibiotics to ward off infection (passed onto the consumer of that fish) and they are often fed dye pellets to give them the color of natural salmon, which means you aren’t getting the antioxidant power of real salmon.

Granted, there are different types of farming practices, and some are better than others. Whole Foods Market is probably the highest integrity farmed salmon because their fish aren’t treated with antibiotics, quarters aren’t as tight, and they don’t consume dye pellets to get their color, so the nutrient profile is more akin to wild salmon.

When it’s Not Labeled

Even though farm-raised salmon is frequently labeled as such, that's not always the case. “Atlantic” salmon, for instance, is commonly used to indicate farm-raised, even though the name hardly implies that.

Your best assurance is to buy from a market that clearly promises that all items are wild-caught. In Alaska, the salmon industry is all wild-caught; there are no Alaskan salmon farms. When you purchase wild Alaskan salmon, you are not only getting the healthiest salmon possible but also supporting many family-owned businesses and small Native Alaskan fishing communities.

Wild salmon will also have the lowest amount of PCBs and toxins compared to farm-raised salmon, as well as be a vital source of DHA, the essential fatty acid necessary for brain development. It delivers 2400mg of omega 3s per 4oz serving.

The 3 Types of Wild Alaskan Salmon:


King salmon, most of the time, will have higher fat and oil content because the King are larger and have longer upstream journeys. For taste, if you love the fatty fish variety, this might be your favorite.


Sockeye salmon is famous for its bright red color and firmer texture. This salmon is higher in the powerful antioxidant called astroxanthin and tastes the leanest of the Alaskan Salmon.


Coho salmon has the mildest and least “fishy” flavor, making it an excellent choice when you first introduce salmon to kids or if you’re making a dish where you don’t want to overpower the other ingredients.

Salmon is delicious grilled, broiled, sautéed or poached. Here are three of our most popular salmon recipes to whet your palate:

Baked Wild Salmon with Leeks

Ginger Broiled Salmon

Roasted Salmon with Basil Aioli

To sign the petition to contest GMO salmon or for more info the topic:

Food and Water Watch Petition

FDA's Draft Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Food Has or Has Not Been Derived From Genetically Engineered Atlantic Salmon

NY Times: Genetically Engineered Salmon Will Not Be Labeled

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