FDA deems new genetically engineered salmon safe to eat

FDA deems new genetically engineered salmon safe to eat
© Thinkstock

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved as safe to eat salmon that’s genetically engineered to grow faster.

The agency said Thursday that AquaBounty Technologies’s AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified organism (GMO), meets the statutory requirements for safety and effectiveness under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The Atlantic salmon’s DNA is engineered to reach market size more quickly than non-GMO farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

AquAdvantage salmon are as safe to eat, the FDA said, and the fish are as nutritious non-GMO Atlantic salmon, with no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.               

ADVERTISEMENT
This salmon can only be raised in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. In order to farm the fish in the U.S., FDA officials said, the Massachusetts-based company will need to submit another application to the agency, which would trigger an environmental review.  

The fish will be contained in tanks equipped with physical barriers to prevent them or their eggs from escaping into the environment. The FDA said that AquAdvantage salmon are reproductively sterile females, so even in the event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild.

In addition to deeming a new genetically engineered salmon as safe to eat, the FDA released draft guidance Thursday on how companies should go about voluntarily labeling whether a food has been made from genetically engineered salmon and final guidance on how companies should voluntarily label food that comes from a genetically engineered plants.

The final guidance recommends companies wishing to label foods that are made without genetically engineered plants use phrases such as “Not bioengineered,” “Not genetically engineered” and “Not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology.”

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA said it can only require additional labeling of foods derived from GMOs if there is a material difference — such as a different nutritional profile — between the GMO product and its unmodified counterpart. In the case of the AquAdvantage salmon, the FDA said it did not find any such differences. 

Environmental groups lambasted the FDA Thursday, calling its decision flawed and irresponsible. 

“There’s no place on our dinner plates for genetically engineered fish,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth-US, said in a statement. “We will continue to work to ensure the market, from grocery retailers to restaurants, continues to listen to majority of consumers that don't want to eat this poorly studied, unlabeled genetically engineered fish."

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) said it plans to sue the FDA over the genetically engineered salmon.

“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment,” CFS Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said in a news release. “Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant.”

In approving the AquAdvantage Salmon, the group said, the FDA ignored the 2 million Americans who filed public comments and more than 40 members of Congress who voiced opposition to the action.

“This decision sets a dangerous precedent, lowering the standards of safety in this country,” Kimbrell said. “CFS will hold FDA to their obligations to the American people.”

Advocates for biotechnology, however, praised the agency for bringing a healthy and affordable food to consumers that has less of an impact on the environment.

“Genetically engineered salmon are also more sustainable and have a lower carbon footprint because they can be grown closer to consumers, instead of being flown or trucked from thousands of miles away,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a statement. “These benefits will be further compounded as lower prices encourage people to substitute fish for meat, which will boost human health.”