FDA Grants First Ever Approval For Genetically Modified Animal Products

The salmon can only be kept in land-based facilities in Panama and Canada. Vipavlenkoff/Shutterstock

Genetically engineered salmon for human consumption has finally been given the green light by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The decision, “based on sound science and comprehensive review,” is the first time that genetically engineered animal products have ever been approved for sale as food in the U.S., although the fish will be required to be bred and produced outside of the country as part of the FDA’s approval.

While genetically modified crops, such as soy and corn, are already allowed to be sold for human food in the U.S. and are widespread, this news marks a new chapter in the production and consumption of genetically engineered products. Many organizations against allowing the altered seafood into the food chain are concerned that this will set a precedent for other GM animal products to be given the go-ahead by the FDA. The genetically modified salmon is produced by the biotech firm AquaBounty Technologies, who have been trying since 1995 to gain approval for the fish.

“The FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and 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’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement.

The salmon are modified by adding two different genes, each from a different fish species, which allow the salmon to grow to market size quicker, while requiring up to 25 percent less feed stock to do so. Along with the potential to grow the salmon closer to where it’s sold, thus reducing its carbon footprint, the fact that they need less feed stock means that the fish are more environmentally sustainable than their non-GM counterparts, argues AquaBounty.

According to the FDA, the genes introduced in the salmon meet the definition of a drug, meaning the organization had to form a new provision under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act in order to regulate the production of the fish. Either way, “the FDA determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon.”

It is precisely this modification, though, that troubles many environmental groups. “The animals could potentially escape, breed, and outcompete wild salmon species,” says Greenpeace. The FDA, however, feels that they have covered this issue, as the fish are required to be bred and raised in land-based facilities. Not only that, but the fish will not be allowed to be produced on U.S. soil, with only two sites, one in Panama and the other in Canada, being granted a licence. In addition, all the fish are female and sterile, though some argue that the sterilization process has a five percent failure rate. 

Like a certain great mathmatician once said, "Life, er, finds a way." 

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