The first genetically altered food animal has been cleared for human consumption in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration has granted approval to the AquAdvantage Salmon, a variety of Atlantic salmon that was modified to grow twice as fast as other salmon.
The FDA says that this salmon is safe to eat, but it will not be available at the supermarket for about another 2 years.
"There are no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon," the FDA said in a statement. The FDA has jurisdiction over genetically modified plants and animals because the recombinant DNA that is introduced into them meets the definition of a drug.
The approval of this salmon was held up by the Obama administration for more than 5 years because of consumer concerns about genetically modified foods.
Because there are no real differences between a modified salmon and a normal one, the FDA will not require packaging labels that say it is genetically engineered. However, retailers could label the fish if they wish and the FDA has created guidelines for such labeling.
Several retailers, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Target, and Kroger, have said they are not planning to sell AquAdvantage Salmon.
Critics call it "Frankenfish" and say it can cause human allergies and possibly destroy the natural salmon population if it escapes into the wild. The Center for Food Safety said it will sue FDA to block the approval of AquAdvantage Salmon. Lawmakers from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where salmon fishing is a big industry, are also saying they will fight the approval.
The AquAdvantage Salmon will be grown on only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks at two facilities in Canada and Panama, said the FDA. There will be barriers in the tanks to prevent the escape of fish, which will be bred to be female and sterile, so if any do escape, they should not be able to breed.
The salmon was modified to add a growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows that fish to produce growth hormone all year long and another gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that keeps the growth hormone active. Normal Atlantic salmon produce the growth hormone for only part of the year.