FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Salmon as OK to Sell in Supermarkets—And It Won't Require Labeling

The FDA has officially approved genetically engineered salmon as fit for human consumption. Their decision is controversial.

The FDA has officially approved genetically engineered salmon as fit for human consumption. What's that mean? It means that AquAdvantage Salmon will be the first genetically altered animal that can be legally sold in America's grocery stores.

AquAdvantage Salmon is Atlantic salmon that has been genetically modified to grow twice as fast. This was made possible by incorporating a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a bit of DNA from the ocean pout, which is an eel-like fish. AquAdvantage Salmon was developed by AquaBounty Technologies, a biotechnology company headquartered in Massachusetts.

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The benefits of faster-growing salmon are numerous—quicker turnaround, fewer resources used, and overall, more available salmon. According to AquaBounty's website, the "AquAdvantage Salmon grows to market-size using 25 percent less feed than any Atlantic salmon on the market today" and has a carbon footprint 23-25 times less than Norwegian salmon and Chilean Salmon, which are the two major sources of Atlantic salmon in the U.S.

The product's approval comes after roughly two decades of testing and research by the FDA. In a statement, the FDA said: "Based on a comprehensive analysis of the scientific evidence, the FDA determined 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 rDNA 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 is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-GE 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."

One stipulation of the approval is that AquAdvantage Salmon can only be raised in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two facilities in Panama and Canada.

Although the product has been approved, it could take years before AquAdvantage salmon comes to a store near you. First, it will take some time for the company to develop the facilities and raise the required amount of salmon. Second, opponents of the product might not let it get that far. Many people think that GMO salmon should not be widely grown and eaten by Americans.

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Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the group Food and Water Watch, said in a statement: "This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition."

Genetically engineered animals raise an ethical issue for some, and critics of the approval still aren't convinced that eating food from such animals won't eventually cause harm to humans. Several major chains—such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's—have already pledged not to sell genetically modified salmon.

Concerns have also been raised over what could happen if a genetically engineered salmon somehow escaped and mixed with wild fish. However, the FDA has deemed the odds of escape very low; and even if there were an escape, all AquAdvantage Salmon are female and sterile.

One of the most controversial aspects of the approval is that genetically engineered salmon will not require special labeling. This could create confusion among consumers, who might not be able to tell whether the salmon they're buying has been genetically engineered.

Consumers can voice concerns on the labeling issue starting Nov. 23 by submitting comments to Regulations.gov.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: NEWS | FOODS | FASTER | RAISES | SALMON