Biology

Salmon the first genetically engineered animal to get FDA approval for human consumption

Salmon the first genetically e...
The FDA has approved a genetically modified Atlantic salmon for human consumption
The FDA has approved a genetically modified Atlantic salmon for human consumption
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The FDA has approved a genetically modified Atlantic salmon for human consumption
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The FDA has approved a genetically modified Atlantic salmon for human consumption
One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages
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One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages

Following what it describes as an "exhaustive and rigorous scientific review," the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced the approval of the first ever genetically-modified animal for human consumption. The engineered salmon in question has had its DNA altered in such a way that it grows to market-ready size in around half the time of regular salmon, and has now been declared safe for humans and safe for the environment.

Developed by multinational company AquaBounty Technologies, the AquAdvantage salmon takes the three year cycle for farmed Atlantic salmon to reach market size and shortens it to 16-18 months, with the help of a couple of key ingredients. A growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon, a faster growing species, is added to its DNA, along with a promoter from an eel-like fish called ocean pout. A promoter is a sequence of DNA that switches on the expression of a gene.

The move to clear the fish for consumption has been anything but a snap decision, with AquaBounty Technologies first filing for FDA approval of its genetically-modified salmon in 1995. In the years since, it has submitted a series of scientific studies in support of its application before the agency came to recommend an approval in 2010.

Now, after two decades of careful consideration, the FDA has finally given the superfish the nod. Following evaluation of the data, around two million public objections and the release of draft environmental documents for public review, the agency says AquAdvantage salmon is as safe to eat as regular Atlantic salmon. It says it has a comparable nutritional profile, finding no relevant biological differences in key hormones including estradiol, testosterone, 11-ketotestosterone, T3, T4 and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1).

One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages, so as to prevent them escaping into the wild and breeding with natural Atlantic salmon. One of these facilities is located in Canada, where the breeding is handled, while the fish are brought to full-size in the mountains of Panama.

One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages
One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages

The FDA has also determined that the fish will not require labeling indicating they were genetically engineered. While manufacturers selling the product will be free to do so if they wish, the agency has not made it mandatory as it says the fish is not materially different from natural Atlantic salmon. Differences that would warrant compulsory labeling might include variations in nutritional profile or functional properties.

The announcement has unsurprisingly drawn swift backlash from certain quarters, who have questioned the legitimacy of the review process. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has already announced plans to sue the FDA and prevent the modified salmon landing on dinner plates around the country.

"The review process by FDA was inadequate, failed to fully examine the likely impacts of the salmon's introduction, and lacked a comprehensive analysis. This decision sets a dangerous precedent, lowering the standards of safety in this country. CFS will hold FDA to their obligations to the American people," executive director Andrew Kimbrell said in a statement.

For its part, AquaBounty claims the FDA approval provides the opportunity for the US to develop an its own economically viable domestic aquaculture industry, pointing out that the country currently imports more than 90 percent of all seafood, and over 95 percent of Atlantic salmon, it consumes.

Source: FDA, AquaBounty

18 comments
John Banister
They should label them. People will buy them anyways if the price is right. If they don't label them, that makes it look like they're putting their profits over their interest in consumers, which in turn makes them out to be the kind of people whose product should be required to be labeled. The only way for them to be trustworthy enough not to be forced to label their product is to do so voluntarily. OTOH, I've never heard anyone bitching about sawdust from genetically engineered fast growing trees.
MarkS
John, you are correct, people will buy the modified Salmon if the price is right. However I would qualify that by stating ignorant people will buy the Salmon. Just because the FDA says it is safe does not make it safe. History is rife with statements by people in positions of power convincing the ignorant spending public what is good for them, just to be proven false later. There are too many vested interests. Any statement, by anyone, that genetic engineering is safe should already set alarm bells going. It is not that genetic engineering cannot be safe, it certainly can, but it is pure arrogance and ignorance by anyone, with current technology and understanding, to state genetic fiddling is 100% safe in the short and long term. Genetics by its nature is dynamic, billions of years of evolution has proven that without a doubt. And nobody can state categorically that they know exactly how the modified genetics will be modified later by the host organism and environmental effects, or cause other modifications, because the number of variables are far too many to take all into consideration. These 'experiments' have never been, and will never be for the good of humanity, it is purely driven by commercial forces. It is pathetically naive to believe this is to save humanity, on the contrary the commercial forces driving this can be humanity's undoing. This ignorance is blatanly evident with the challenges we face with the effect we have on our environment. Dealing with these issues should be much simpler than trying to eradicate a runaway gene code, but we cannot even agree on that. It is because of the commercial forces driving the 'can do' attitude, no-one stops to think if we should.
Bob809
They should label these Salmon, John Banister is correct in that assessment. To sell anything that has been touched by GM needs to be labelled as a GM product, otherwise, how will people know the difference? Should people know? I believe they have the right to know, and we all know in the US you know what your rights are and have fought for them. You need to continue fighting for them as just because the FDA is a government body, does not mean they can be trusted to protect the people of your fine country. Demand that any GM product, edible or not, be labelled as such.
owlbeyou
If it's GM, then label it as such. MarkS is correct about the profit margins that have an unhealthy priority in today's business. Putting profits ahead of people is not cool. Treating animals like plants is scary business. I have stopped buying chicken and farmed salmon for years now. It's cruel and unnatural. Being mostly vegetarian is much better, for me and the ecosystem. But hey, canola and corn are all GM, and many other foods we eat. The Europeans don't want it, but in America it's business as usual. All these companies like Syngenta and Monsanto are screwing around with the natural product in ways that are potentially irresponsible and dangerous, all for the bottom line of profit. It's not just the bee population that is suffering, which is serious in itself. If we keep screwing around with Mother Nature irresponsibly in ways that will come back to bite us years down the road, we will only have ourselves to blame, because the value of our expectations of food is cheapened by the cost at the market and expensive to our health at the doctor's.
Stephen N Russell
If legit, can apply to other fish: Mahi Mahi, tuna, dover sole, swordfish, scampi, whitefish etc IE dining fish. & other HI fishes.
AlexanderGrech
It's a must to label them,people should know what they are eating.If they are cheaper,and good,people will buy them.
Nik
The US already has problems with invasive species of fish, which if they enter the Great lakes, will destroy the ecology of those lakes. The eggs only have to find their way through one lock-gate from the Mississippi, attached the the hull of a boat, and they are there. How will it be made certain that eggs from these fish do not get flushed into water courses, and hence into the wild, to mate with natural fish? GM plants, have proved impossible to contain, and are now polluting the world. GM fish can do the same, the results could be a catastrophe, with these fish out-breeding the natural variety, and so destroying them.
Bob Flint
If it's so safe, why are the segregating the fish from the wild. 1. It's greed, & ignorance. 2. One of the conditions of the approval is that the salmon be raised in land-based farms rather than sea-cages, so as to prevent them escaping into the wild and breeding with natural Atlantic salmon. Sounds they are not sure of the ultimate outcome, or again GREED because then they don't control the profits...Mother nature looses again...
EZ
Develop our own gmo fish industry in the US? In Panama and Canada? I'm confused. GMO aspects are not the only concerns. It's also what kind of refuse they feed these fish.
Wolf0579
After decades of attack and fund starvation from the "wrong-wing", the FDA is about as useless as tits on a bull. Their declarations are pretty universally ignored. They recently put out a press release that said orally ingested multiple vitamins are totally ineffective. Yet companies continue to put out these useless products (BOOST for the elderly and chemotherapy patients, multivitamins for children and adults), and people still buy them because they are under the mistaken impression the FDA wouldn't allow them to be sold, otherwise. I remember when the FDA could stop a bad product, though they often didn't get involved, unless it was a blatant case where people were being killed.