FDA Approves Genetically Altered Salmon

In November of 2015, the Food and Drug Administration issued its first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for food, AquAdvantage Salmon. “The Agency said that after an exhaustive and rigorous scientific review, they arrived at the decision that the salmon is as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic Salmon and as nutritious.”

According to Wikipedia, “genetically modified foods or (GM) foods, also genetically engineered foods, are foods produced from organisms that have had changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering techniques allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.”

Ron Stotish, the CEO of AquaBounty, the Massachusetts based company that engineered AquAdvatage salmon, said in a statement that the fish is a “game changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats.”

The genetically modified fish grows twice as fast as farm raised fish. A new gene from its cousin, the Chinook salmon, is inserted into fertilized salmon eggs, along with molecular components from the pout fish, boosting the production of a fish growth hormone so that it is turned on all year round.

In a press release the FDA said, “the FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat,” said Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The FDA further said that “AquAdvantage Salmon meets the statutory requirements for safety and effectiveness under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Among the requirements the sponsor had to meet are that food from the fish is safe to eat; the DNA construct (the piece of DNA that makes the salmon grow faster) is safe for the fish itself; and the AquAdvantage Salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth. In addition, the FDA determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth. In addition, the FDA determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-genetically Atlantic salmon and that there are no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.”

Critics have called the genetically modified fish “frankenfish” and are calling for boycotts and lawsuits. Their concerns are about possible unknown health risks to humans and the possibility that the fish could escape their enclosures and contaminate wild fish populations. However, the FDA says the fish may only be raised in land-based , contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. The FDA approval does not allow the salmon to be bred or raised in the United States. Finally, the AquAdvantage Salmon are reproductively sterile so that even in the highly unlikely event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild.

AquAdvantage says their genetically modified salmon have the same flavor, texture, color and odor as conventional fish. However the general public may never know that they are eating the genetically modified salmon because the FDA can only require additional labeling of foods derived from GE sources if there is a material difference-such as a different nutritional profile between the GE product and its non-GE counterpart. In the case of the AquAdvantage Salmon, the FDA did not find any such differences.

It will be at least two years for the GM salmon to hit the grocery store shelves, but already spokespeople for Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s Target and Kroger have all said they are not planning to sell AquAdvantage Salmon.

Photo courtesy of AquaBounty Technologies, Inc.

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