FRIDAY, Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration may soon approve genetically modified salmon for
humans to eat, a prospect that is raising concern among some
consumer advocates who consider the fish a threat to both health
and the environment.
On Sept. 3, a scientific panel of experts that advises the FDA
paved the way for the approval of genetically modified salmon,
calling it "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon."
The FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee went on to say
that the fish -- AquAdvantage Salmon developed by Waltham,
Mass.-based AquaBounty Technologies -- contained the same amount of
nutrients and had "no biologically relevant differences" from
ordinary farmed Atlantic salmon. The FDA is scheduled to hold
public hearings on the issue from Sept. 19 to 21.
If AquaBounty's salmon is approved, it would mark the first time
a genetically modified animal has been approved for America's
dinner plates and restaurant menus.
That's what worries consumer advocates, who say approving the
salmon is opening the door to all sorts of genetically engineered
animals, such as pigs and other mammals.
The FDA is regulating genetically engineered animals as it would
a new veterinary drug, which means that much of the research and
information about the product is being kept confidential, said
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch in
"We don't know if it's safe for humans to eat and the only research that has been done was done by the company," according to Hauter. "The FDA is an under-resourced agency that has had so much trouble with the regulatory system for foods -- we've had tainted eggs, poisonous peanuts and other contaminations -- and is now taking on something in a very non-transparent way."
Recently, Food & Water Watch was joined by 30 other animal
welfare, consumer environmental and fisheries groups, including the
Sierra Club, which issued a statement citing concerns that the fish
could escape and pose an environmental threat. Previously, another
group of consumer advocates and others warned that "transgenic
fish" could introduce new or unknown allergens into the food
AquaBounty creates its salmon by taking a growth gene from the
Chinook salmon and a gene "promoter" from the ocean pout, another
type of fish, said John Buchanan, AquaBounty's director of research
and development. The pout gene promoter simply turns on the Chinook
salmon growth gene, and is not actually expressed [active] in the
modified fish. The resulting salmon grow to market weight about
twice as fast as ordinary Atlantic salmon, though they don't get
While it typically takes about three years for salmon to grow to
market weight, AquaBounty's salmon get there in about 18 months,
To safeguard the environment, Buchanan said the eggs will be
treated so that all fish that grow from them will be sterile
females. That means they will not be able to reproduce, nor will
they come into contact with males to reproduce with, said Buchanan,
whose firm would sell the treated eggs.
While farm-raised salmon is typically grown in ocean-based
tanks, the genetically modified fish will be grown in land-based
tanks, also minimizing the chances of escape, he said.
"We have done a tremendous amount of work geared toward regulatory approval to show that the fish is healthy and safe," Buchanan said.
Genetically modified animals have been produced since the 1970s,
according to background information in the FDA's briefing
materials, but none have been approved for human consumption.
Currently, genetically modified soybeans and corn are being sold
for people to eat.
AquaBounty said bringing the salmon to market would take at
least 18 months after approval. Farmers that want to grow the fish
will also need FDA approval of their facilities.
Buchanan also believes that, if approved, the fish could help
reduce pollution, disease and other problems associated with
saltwater fish farms, as well as provide an alternative source of
seafood to help reduce the impact of overfishing.
One question for consumers is whether packaging will be required
to specify that the salmon is genetically modified. The FDA will
consider that issue during the public hearings.
Read what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel
had to say about
genetically modified salmon.
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