Genetically Engineered Salmon Is Perfectly Safe, FDA Says

AquAvantage salmon.
AquAvantage salmon (background) and regular Atlantic salmon (foreground).

[credit provider=”AquaBounty Technologies”]

After 17 years in the approval process, the AquAdvantage salmon is one step closer to being sold for human consumption. The FDA found that the genetically engineered salmon is perfectly safe to eat and won’t harm the environment, they announced on Friday, Dec. 21.The salmon were created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc., of Maynard, Mass., and will be farmed in inland tanks in Panama.

The fish had already been approved to be eaten, but the FDA hadn’t announced their decision on the fish’s environmental impacts yet. Some people are worried that the fish could escape into the natural habitat and breed with wild salmon, introducing the fast-growing gene into the population and perturbing the natural ecosystem, even though the fish are only farmed on land and are (mostly) sterile. Other people were also worried that the fast-growing salmon would compete with natural populations for food, because they eat so much more than the normal fish.

The AquAvantage salmon is genetically engineered to grow twice as fast, which means they don’t take as long to reach maturity. The inserted gene comes from a different type of salmon, the Chinook, and lets them grow year round because it produces a different kind of growth hormone. The Chinook gene is controlled by a piece of DNA from the ocean pout, another edible fish.

The fish won’t be specially labelled when they reach stores. Because the changes made to the fish are specific proteins that are found in other edible fish, there’s no reason for consumers to worry about when consuming the salmon, though some are worried about exaggerated levels of growth hormones in the fish, though no such things were found. 

There are other advantages to the land-farmed quick growing salmon: It’s more sustainable than farmed or wild-caught salmon, which rely on natural coastal areas to grow. The ability to farm the fish anywhere on land would also mean that there are fewer shipping costs and environmental impacts.

Here’s the FDA’s environmental assessment [PDF] document, and the preliminary “finding of no significant impact [PDF],” document. The documents are open for public comment for the next 60 days. If the assessment is approved, the fish will be one step closer to supermarkets. If approved, the fish is likely to be the first (specifically) genetically modified food to make its way to your table.

“The attributes of our product and a land-based system are exactly what environmental groups are asking for,” AquaBounty President and Chief Executive Ronald Stotish told the LATimes. “We hope that when they read the environmental assessment they will understand the science and the benefits of our product and stop opposing us just because we’re different.”