The FDA has deemed genetically modified salmon as safe for consumption, in a move which has spurred alarm among consumer advocacy groups.
It’s the first time ever that the Food and Drug Administration has approved of a product that has been genetically engineered. The controversial decision has already been contested by the Center for Food Safety, who has announced it would be filing a lawsuit against the FDA.
The salmon will be produced by AquaBounty Technologies in 2 fish hatcheries located in Canada and Panama. The biotechnology company, headquartered in Maynard, Massachusetts, has actually been on the market ever since 1991, and aims to boost productivity in the aquaculture sector, by altering fish DNA.
Sold under the label AquAdvantage, the new type of fish is a hybrid of the Atlantic salmon, with growth hormone genes pertaining to the Pacific Chinook salmon, and an extra promoter for the antifreeze protein gene, taken from the ocean pout, a type of eel commonly found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.
Because of this combination of elements, the genetically engineered salmon can handle lower temperatures much more easily, which means that it can be grown throughout the whole year. Moreover, it also has much higher concentrations of the growth hormone, in comparison with ordinary fish.
As a result, it is capable of reaching the standard size required for commercialization in half the time required by regular, unmodified salmon.
Furthermore, it appears to be environment-friendly, since it needs around 25% less food compared to ordinary fish, and its carbon footprint is lower since it can be harvested closer to those who will use it as a source of nutrition.
According to FDA representatives, the AquAdvantage salmon is actually fit for human consumption, and its nutritional value is just as high as that of non-genetically altered, farm-raised Atlantic salmon.
This is certainly a much-awaited victory for AquaBounty Technologies, given the fact that producers have first sought to have their fish accepted by the federal agency approximately 2 decades ago.
The company had been faced with financial woes in recent years, being forced to undergo a process of downsizing in 2012, by reducing the number of its employees from 27 to 12.
Therefore, this good news, which was received on November 19 following extensive deliberation by the FDA, might be just what the producers needed in order to rejuvenate their business.
It remains to be seen if retailers will be willing to promote this new food item in their stores, and if consumers will actually buy it, given that genetically modified products are thought to cause antibiotic resistance, allergies and even cancer.
While the federal agency has taken into account several peer-reviewed studies before giving its stamp of approval, that might be of little comfort to those who swear by organic, non-GMO food. For instance, a study conducted in 2012 by NPR has shown that just 35% of the respondents were willing to sample genetically engineered fish.
There is also bound to be resistance from salmon fishermen, as well as from environmental protection groups. These two categories of opponents fear that transgenic salmon might contaminate ordinary fisheries, and might mate with wild species, in case it’s ever released alongside them, or escapes somehow.
It might even out-compete local fish, and make it even more difficult for them to access already depleted food sources.
Moreover, if genetic mutations are passed to wild salmon, this might be the final nail in this species’ coffin, given that it’s already considered severely endangered.
AquaBounty Technologies however has tried to diffuse these worries, by claiming that it would only grow and harvest sterile females, so even if these finned creatures were to come into contact with wild salmon, they wouldn’t be able to mate successfully.
Image Source: AquaBounty