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Genetically Modified Salmon Approved By FDA For Consumption In US

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Genetically Modified Salmon

AquaBounty – the biotech company that designed the salmon – first submitted the fish for regulatory approval nearly 20 years ago.

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November 20, 2015 | by Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the sale of genetically modified salmon for human consumption stating, “food from the fish is safe to eat.” The approval is the first genetically modified meat product that’s received FDA approval.

AquaBounty – the biotech company that designed the salmon – first submitted the fish for regulatory approval nearly 20 years ago. Individuals who oppose the idea of genetically modified organisms (GMO), say that consumers will not be interested in eating seafood that is genetically modified. These anti-GMO activists also point to the potential harm on the environment these fish could have if they were to escape their aquaculture pen.

“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 Dr. Bernadette Dunham of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. The FDA approval does come with a few conditions: the salmon is required to be bred and raised in water tanks on land, at only two sites – one in Canada and another in Panama.

AquaBounty has developed the GMOs to be sterile, in an effort to prevent breeding with wild populations of salmon “in the highly unlikely event of an escape.” The Atlantic salmon were modified by the addition of a gene from another species – Pacific Chinook salmon – to increase the rate at which the fish grow.

According to Dr. Ron Stotish, CEO of AquaBounty, the transgenic salmon 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.” Since the young salmon are capable of reaching adult size much more rapidly than wild-type fish, the salmon can be housed in large tanks in close proximity to urban areas.



While the GM salmon certainly represents an advancement in aquaculture, it’s unclear whether retailers and consumers will be open to the idea of transgenic salmon. According to the food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth, Lisa Archer, despite the FDA’s “flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it's clear that there is no place in the US market for genetically engineered salmon.”

The GM salmon are capable of reaching maturity faster than traditional breeds, however it is unclear how long it might take for AquaBounty to produce the fish in sufficient numbers to begin marketing to consumers. “It's the first genetically engineered animal for food that's been approved anywhere in the world,” commented Professor Helen Sang of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, on the precedent set by the FDA’s decision.

“There's been a feeling that many companies have been waiting to see if the US will approve GM salmon before going ahead themselves,” said Sang. While the GM salmon has been approved by the FDA in the US, sales of the fish outside the US would require approval by the country’s regulators.

According to Dr. Joe Perry, the former Chair of the European Food Safety Authority GMO Panel, if the company applied to raise GM salmon in Europe, the risk assessment “would require considerably more data. There remain legitimate ecological concerns over the possible consequences if these GM salmon escape to the wild and reproduce, despite FDA assurances over containment and sterility, neither of which can be guaranteed.”

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