The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption in the U.S. The AquAdvantage salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies began seeking FDA approval 20 years ago.
“After an exhaustive and rigorous scientific review, FDA has arrived at the decision that AquAdvantage salmon is as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon,” the FDA says.
The FDA also finds that the genetically engineered salmon, which grows faster and consumes less food than natural salmon, is equally as nutritious.
The fish will be raised on land-based farms, currently located in Canada and Panama, and any new facilities would have to separately seek approval. A 2012 environmental assessment from the FDA finds the fish pose “no significant impact.” But critics of the salmon, who have labeled it the “frankenfish,” say that there are not sufficient safeguards to prevent the fish from escaping. If the genetically engineered fish were introduced in the wild, there’s concern that it could outperform or interbreed with wild species.
AquaBounty has taken some measures to prevent such an outcome. Fish raised for food—but not breeding—will be all female and sterile.
Some have made arguments for the environmental advantages of genetically modified fish. Tamar Haspel writes for The Washington Post that the fish could be a more resource-efficient way of producing food than other farmed fish.
Currently, the federal government does not require foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled, so it’s unlikely that once this fish hits the market consumers will know if they’re buying and eating the AquAdvantage fish. A number of retailers have said they won’t carry the salmon, including Safeway, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Target and Whole Foods.
Many are criticizing the FDA’s decision, arguing that it's based on insufficient data. “Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, Food and Technology program director at Friends of the Earth in a statement. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.”
According to AquaBounty, it may be another two years before the fish come to market.