Anything Fishy About Genetically Modified Salmon?

Nov. 19, 2015 — The FDA has approved the first genetically modified animal, a kind of salmon, meant to feed people.

The agency took nearly 2 decades to make its decision on the new breed of fish, called AquAdvantage, which was reviewed as a new drug, rather than a new food.

“After rigorous scrutiny, FDA has determined that food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe and effective to eat as food from non-GE (genetically engineered) salmon,” said Bernadette Dunham, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a news conference on Thursday.

The agency says nutritionally, there is no difference between natural and genetically modified salmon, and regulators will not require special labeling for the genetically engineered fish.

But in an apparent concession to consumers who want to stay away from genetically engineered foods, the FDA also released draft recommendations Thursday to help guide food companies that want to tell consumers if their foods — plants or animals — have or have not been genetically modified.

AquAdvantage contains genes from Chinook salmon and another fish called an ocean pout that allow the fish to grow faster. The inserted genes cause the fish to produce growth hormone year-round, making them ready to sell in about 18 months. That’s about half the time it takes to grow natural salmon.

AquaBounty, the company that makes the new salmon, claim their farmed fish will be good for the environment, since they need about 25% less food and can be grown closer to the people who will eat them, reducing their product’s carbon footprint.

But it may be a tough sell.

“Consumers and retailers are clear that they don’t want the GMO salmon,” says Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth, in Berkeley, CA. The nonprofit is leading a campaign against genetically modified seafood.

Perls says more than 60 grocery chains, including Whole Foods, Kroger, and Safeway, have already pledged not to carry the new salmon, she says.

“People don’t want to eat it.”

Numerous scientific organizations have issued statements saying that genetically modified plants are safe.

The World Health Organization, for instance, says that because each genetically modified food is made in a slightly different way, they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but that GM foods sold around the world have passed scientific assessments and are not likely to pose risks to human health.

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