What will you be serving on your dinner table tonight? Well, in the very near future, it might very well be the first genetically engineered animal to be approved in the U.S. for human consumption, GMO salmon.
In spite of the reservations of opposing parties, the FDA deemed the fish to be perfectly safe, and gave the go-head a few days ago. In a matter of a few years, the salmon could be making its way to your local grocery store aisles.
The government agency determined that the genetically modified fish were nearly identical on a biological level to other non-GMO fish that were raised under similar conditions.
Members of the U.S. executive branch had attempted to slow the approval process over the years due to a wariness regarding GMO foods that still exists among the populace. These modified salmon reach maturity 100% faster than their unmodified counterparts.
AquAdvantage Salmon is engineered by the Massachusetts-based company AquaBounty. Ron Stotish, the company’s CEO, 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.”
AquaBounty, states that within two years, the salmon should begin to become available at local supermarkets, as this is the amount of time that it will take the new fish to be raised from an egg to their final size.
It’s very likely that when the salmon do begin to trickle into consumer products, people might not even realize that they are eating them. According to the FDA, there is no reason to require special labeling on the products, since the fish are physically exactly like other farmed non-GMO salmon. The company who engineered them agrees, stating that the fish will taste, smell, and look the same as any other fish.
Nevertheless, the FDA does support grocery stores who choose to voluntarily label their GMO products—including fruits and vegetables—and released guidelines concerning this process.
To appeal to a certain subset of consumers, some retail stores are not planning to make the fish available at all. Target, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods have all made statements that they will forgo the GMO salmon.
Some members of the population are still concerned about the safety of the fish, calling it “unnatural,” and voicing concerns that GMO fish could cause allergic reactions in human beings, despite the fact that the fish are physically identical to unmodified ones. Another more pressing concern is the possibility that the fish could escape into the wild and genetically pollute the wild salmon population, causing mass extinction.
“There’s no place on our dinner plates for genetically engineered fish,” said Lisa Archer of the environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth. “We will continue to work to ensure the market, from grocery retailers to restaurants, continues to listen to the majority of consumers that don’t want to eat this poorly studied, unlabeled genetically engineered fish.”
Just hours after the announcement, another advocacy group, The Center for Food Safety, said it would sue FDA to block the approval.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, has said the engineered salmon could harm her state’s wild salmon industry. She took to the Senate floor to criticize the FDA shortly after the announcement, saying she was “spitting mad.” She and other Alaska and Pacific Northwest lawmakers said they will swiftly push legislation to mandate labeling of the modified fish.
Luckily, according to the FDA, the fish will live their lives essentially under quarantine, in land-based farms where the fish cannot have contact with any of their wild cousins. The hatching facilities are limited to locations in Panama and Canada, and any salmon raised in other countries by the company may not be sold as food. This significantly limits the output of edible GMO salmon.
The FDA indicates that there are many strong barriers in place that make the possibility of escape very slim for the fish. In addition, if the salmon are ever somehow successful in coming into contact with the wild, they would not be able to breed with outside populations, since the GMO fish are sterile and female.
One of the advantages of this Salmon—its increased growth rate—is “thanks to” genes borrowed from the Pacific Chinook, which cause the fish to secrete much more growth hormone (GH) than they would otherwise. To keep the hormones effective all year, researchers used genes from the ocean pout, since Atlantic salmon typically only grow seasonally, for one portion of the year.
Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the agency “has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information” submitted by AquaBounty. To approve an engineered animal for human consumption, the agency reviews a company’s data and must determine that the food is safe to eat, that the engineering is safe for the fish and that the company’s claim — in this case, faster growth — is accurate.
AquaBounty’s Stotish said he is hopeful the fish will gain consumer acceptance as people learn more about it.
“We think time and education and information may allow many of these folks to change their mind,” he said of critics.
Featured Image: Salmon is bred in GMO aquaculture. Credit to Takepart.com
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