19 September 2019
The AquAdvantage Salmon has added genes that allow it to more quickly expand to produce more flesh than unaltered Atlantic salmon. Photo: AquaBounty
The AquAdvantage Salmon has added genes that allow it to more quickly expand to produce more flesh than unaltered Atlantic salmon. Photo: AquaBounty

Genetically modified salmon gets US nod

US regulators have approved for the first time a genetically engineered animal for human consumption.

The Food and Drug Administration allowed AquaBounty Technologies Inc. to start marketing its faster-growing salmon, which critics have dubbed “Frankenfish”, Bloomberg News reported.

The AquAdvantage Salmon has added genes that allow the fish to more quickly expand to produce more flesh.

The FDA “determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat”, said Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The decision is part of an effort by the FDA to adapt to the rapidly changing world of genetically modified food.

The US agency determined the salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as other unaltered Atlantic salmon, and the gene engineering is safe for the fish.

The AquAdvantage Salmon must be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama, the FDA said. It isn’t allowed to be bred or raised in the United States.

The salmon are sterile, so if they do escape, they can’t breed with wild fish.

“AquAdvantage Salmon is a game-changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats,” AquaBounty chief executive Ronald Stotish said in a statement.

Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc. have both said they wouldn’t sell genetically engineered salmon, according to food safety and fishing groups that are against the product.

The FDA on Thursday also released guidelines for food companies that want to label their plant-derived products either as genetically engineered or as containing no genetically engineered ingredients.

Food manufacturers aren’t required to label their products with the information but can do so voluntarily.

In the new guidelines, the FDA relies on the term “food derived from genetically engineered plants”, rather than “genetically modified” or “genetically modified organism”, though it won’t take action against companies that use the acronym “GMO”.

Selling genetically modified plants and animals as food has been a controversial topic.

Consumer groups, including Consumers Union and Food & Water Watch, have pushed for labeling of genetically modified foods, which they don’t agree has been proven safe.

Supporters have said the products can help reduce hunger by being more productive and resistant to disease.

Companies including Monsanto Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Syngenta AG make genetically modified seeds for food production, according to Food & Water Watch.

Altered crops include pesticide-resistant soybeans, extra-nutritious rice and apples that don’t brown.

The FDA won’t require food made with the genetically engineered salmon to be labeled.

If consumers want to avoid it, they can choose wild-caught salmon, the FDA said.

“Consumers deserve to know what type of food they’re buying –- and an overwhelming majority has told us that they want genetically modified food labeled in poll after poll,” Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumers Union, said in a statement.

“The decision to not require a GE label for this product takes away the consumer’s ability to make a truly informed choice.”

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