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GMO salmon a nonstory for many restaurant guests

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Media outlets might be swimming in stories about the FDA’s upcoming decision on whether to allow genetically modified salmon on America’s dinner plates, but for restaurant guests the topic of GMO fish isn’t coming up all that much in conversation, at least not yet, says one seafood restaurateur.

“I can honestly say not a single guest has brought it up to me, and usually I’m the first person they bring up seafood issues with,” said Bob Bonner, longtime general manager of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Denver. “I’ve been flooded with questions on the gulf [oil spill] situation and how it’s affecting supply, but this issue hasn’t come up at all yet, which makes me think it’s not as hot a topic among regular news readers as it is among the people like myself who read all the restaurant publications.”

In case the issue hasn’t caught your attention yet: The FDA is scheduled to decide soon on whether to approve Atlantic salmon grown from eggs that contain Chinook salmon genes, which make the fish grow to maturity in about half the time nature typically requires. Maker AquaBounty Technologies and proponents pushing the agency to approve the product for U.S. consumption without labeling it as different from other salmon say the fish is as safe as Mother Nature’s version, and faster growth ensures a steady supply that will help stem the tide of overfishing that may be leading toward a worldwide seafood shortage. Critics, meanwhile, say adding food that has been genetically altered to the food supply is dangerous, especially if the fish isn’t labeled as GMO. Further, some say the safety research done by AquaBounty isn’t nearly extensive enough to prove the product’s safety.

Salmon is one of the most popular fish dishes served at seafood eateries and it’s in the top five at Oceanaire, Bonner says. “Because of the taste and texture, it’s unique. You can describe most fish as tasting like fish, but salmon tastes like salmon, there’s nothing that compares to it.”

Atlantic salmon, the species at issue in the FDA case, is so popular that it has become overfished, creating severe shortages that have led to a commercial fishing ban, which means most of the Atlantic version of the fish that lands on our plates comes from aquaculture operations. That also means it’s likely to show up in Bonner’s restaurants only during the winter months, when wild river salmon is out of season. From April to November, the eatery features fresh-caught river salmon, Bonner says.

Whether the GMO version ever shows up on Oceanaire’s plates will depend largely on the quality and taste of the product, says Bonner, adding that existing relationships built with suppliers of both the wild and farm-raised varieties have ensured a steady supply of salmon year-round. Bonner predicts that most high-end eateries are likely to stick to the familiar products for the foreseeable future.

“For us, it comes down to the quality of flavor,” he says. “As long as the quality of the product is there, that’s the most important factor, and I think [the GMO version] is probably years away from the quality of the farm-raised products we bring in now.”

Are your guests asking about GMO salmon? Will you consider adding it to your menu? Leave a comment.

Image credit, FDS111, iStockPhoto