Federal regulators approved on Thursday a genetically engineered salmon as fit for human consumption, making it the first genetically altered animal to be cleared for American markets.
The AquAdvantage salmon, dubbed Frankenfish by critics, was created by AquaBounty Technologies. The fish contains a growth hormone from a Pacific species, the Chincook salmon, and genetic material from another species, which allows it to grow faster than wild or farm-raised Atlantic salmon. The company has been trying to get approval for the salmon for nearly two decades now.[1,2]
FDA officials said the process took so long because it was the first approval of its kind. Many people suspect the Obama administration stymied approval out of fear of political backlash.
Authorities state the AquAdvantage salmon will not have to be labeled as genetically engineered. Many supermarkets, however, have already stated they will not sell the AquAdvantage salmon in their stores.
Manufactures can volunteer to label food with genetically modified ingredients. However, the label would merely state that the product’s nutritional content had been altered — not that it was genetically engineered.
Frankenfish approved but not likely to see supermarket anytime soon
Despite the approval, Frankenfish won’t be on supermarket shelves anytime soon. It will take at least two years for AquAdvantage salmon to grow large enough to be fit for sale and consumption.
In addition, it’s not likely there will be much of the salmon on the market anyway, since the production facilities, based in Panama, only have the capacity to churn about 100 tons of fish a year. By contrast, the United States imports roughly 300,000 tons of Atlantic salmon each year.
Hours after the decision was made, the Center for Food Safety, along with other organizations, said they would file a lawsuit in order to void the approval.
“This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the group Food and Water Watch, said in a statement Thursday.
These remarks were in contrast to the opinion of William Muir, a professor of Genetics at Purdue University, who praised the decision.
“I view the announcement of the FDA to approve the AquaBounty [genetically engineered] salmon for production in land based system as a huge win-win for the environment, consumers, and the process,” he said. “The scientific review is clear, there is no credible evidence that these fish are a risk to either human health or the environment.”
The dangers of genetically engineered salmon
Make no mistake: AquAdvantage salmon are neither safe for human health nor the environment. AquaBounty Technologies isn’t worried about the reverberations genetically engineered salmon can have on the environment. All they are concerned about is making a bang for their buck.
Over the years, it’s been discovered that farmed Atlantic salmon wreak havoc on the environment. The salmon are raised in cramped open net pens in the ocean, which put large amounts of stress on the neighboring environment and the fish themselves.
Under these conditions, antibiotics have to be pumped into the fish in order to stabilize bacterial infections and other maladies. This stirs a cocktail of feces, consumed fish food and dead fish, otherwise known as effluent, which spills into the ocean and creates massive dead zones.
In addition, it is inevitable for the AquAdvantage salmon to escape into the environment. Approximately 400,000 farmed salmon escaped in British Columbia between 1991 and 2001.
When the genetically engineered salmon does escape, it will have a yearlong appetite dictated neither by season nor natural cycles. The Frankenfish would outcompete the already endangered wild salmon population for food and could exhaust nutrients essential to livestock, as well.
“Experts” claim the salmon is safe because it is sterile and so, cannot reproduce in the environment. The problem is sterilization is not a hundred percent effective. As Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park famously noted, “Life will find a way.”
The approval of Frankenfish could open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals down the road. The FDA will allow the public to comment on the decision beginning November 23rd.