US FDA approves first-ever genetically engineered fish

A female Atlantic Salmon. Image courtesy of the US Parks and Wildlife Service
A female Atlantic Salmon. Image courtesy of the US Parks and Wildlife Service

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has for the first time ever approved meat from a genitally modified animal for human consumption.

A genetically modified salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies has been approved on the grounds that it is “safe to eat for humans”.

The salmon – AquAdvantage – is a genetically modified version of the Atlantic Salmon, and was found to be as safe to eat as the non-GM animal.

AquAdvantage features additional genes from a Pacific Chinook and an Ocean Pout which allow it to grow all year round, rather than only in spring and summer.

“AquAdvantage Salmon is a game-changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats,” said Ronald L. Stotish, Ph.D., CEO of AquaBounty.

In order to come to this conclusion the FDA relied upon information provided by AquaBounty as well as additional peer-reviewed research.

“The data demonstrated that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth,” explained the FDA in a statement.

Concerns had been earlier raised that the fish, due to its fast growth rate, could outcompete other species should they escape into the wild.

The FDA dismissed these fears however, noting that the fish will be only used in land-based fish farms where is there little to no chance of it contaminating the wider gene pool.

Labeling recommendation

In order to accommodate the needs of people who, for a multitude of reasons, are against genetically modified food, the FDA recommended that these GM fish should be clearly labeled as such.

To this aim, the FDA provided two documents with draft recommendations on labeling standards.

“Both guidance documents explain FDA’s best thinking on how to make it easy for consumers to know whether a food was produced using genetic engineering or not,” says Felicia Billingslea director of FDA’s Division of Food Labeling and Standards.