After decades of indecision, the US Food and Drug Administration has finally approved its first genetically modified animal as safe to eat. Welcome a fast-growing GM Atlantic Salmon to your plate.
Following extensive research, the Administration has declared that AquAdvantage salmon are "as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious." Because the FDA has found that these animals are "not materially different from other Atlantic salmon," it also adds that it "does not require food containing ingredients derived from these salmon to be labelled as GE."
The AquAdvantage salmon was first created way back in 1989. Based on the Atlantic salmon, it's modified so that it carries a growth hormone found in the Chinook salmon. That hormone is controlled by an extra piece of DNA taken from the pout fish, which boost its production. The result: the AquAdvantage reaches a size suitable for sale in about half the time it takes a normal Atlantic salmon to.
The FDA's testing — which has been ongoing for quite some time now — shows that "the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor's claim about faster growth."
The authorisation only allows AquAdvantage fish raised in specific facilities, found in Canada and Panama, to be sold in the US. Those facilities contain safeguards to prevent the salmon from escaping into the wild. The FDA notes that these physical barriers "make it extremely unlikely that the fish could escape and establish themselves in the wild," but also points out that it shouldn't matter too much anyway: AquAdvantage salmon are reproductively sterile.
If the labelling rules concern you next time you're in America, chances are that many retailers will choose to declare the difference anyway to keep consumers happy. And at any rate, when it comes to salmon you probably have bigger labelling problems to worry about.
Image by AP