FDA Decides GMO Salmon is Safe to Sell, Despite a Variety of Concerns

Washington, DC (TFC) – Genetically-modified salmon will soon be coming to a grocery store near you. After nearly 20 years, biotech firm AquaBounty Technology received FDA approval to sell the first genetically-modified animal product for consumption in the United States. Since GMO labeling is still not a requirement in the United States, consumers of farmed Atlantic salmon will not know whether they are eating the genetically-modified variety or not. Retailers that have said they will not carry the genetically modified salmon include Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Environmentalists, scientists, and activists have expressed a wide variety of concerns throughout the entire approval process. Consumers in the United States will ultimately be test subjects for the safety, viability, and marketability of the product.

FDA gave AquaBounty food safety approval based upon the biotech company’s own risk assessment in 2010, despite scientific concern. According to NPR, “Genetically modified salmon contain the growth hormone gene from one fish, combined with the promoter of an antifreeze gene from another. This combination both increases and speeds up growth, so the salmon grow faster.” A Congressional Research Service document (2014) notes that “genetic engineering can introduce new protein into a food product, there are concerns that this technique could introduce a previously unknown allergen into the food supply or could introduce a known allergen into a ‘new’ food.” The National Research Council research rates genetically modified seafood as up to a moderate risk. Petitions to the FDA to regulate GM salmon as a food additive argue that the product is materially different than natural salmon due to elevated levels of a certain growth hormone.

AquaBounty’s most recent challenge was to prove that the environmental risk of their GM salmon falls within the FDA’s acceptable range. The salmon are engineered to grow twice as fast as regular salmon and eat less. They are reported to be engineered as eggs in Canada, and then grown to a harvestable size in a land-based facility in Panama. Although environmentalists have pointed to nearby rivers as a potential risk, a spokeperson for AquaBounty claims that the fish will be all female, sterile, and the likelihood of their escape into the wild is “virtually impossible.” A report published in BioScience earlier this year warrants caution, however;history has shown that fish in culture facilities often do escape to nature.” Research is inconclusive as to what will happen when these genetically-engineered salmon inevitably escape into nature, or what health effects it will have on the US population who will soon be consuming genetically modified salmon.

Image Source: James Bowe, Flickr, Creative Commons Salmon Fillet

Image Source: James Bowe, Flickr, Creative Commons
Salmon Fillet

This report prepared Shauna Krystin