FDA May Approve First Genetically Modified Animal for Consumption

By: Nick Engelfried 

September 7, 2010

A genetically engineered salmon, developed by the company AquaBounty, could become the first type of genetically modified animal to be approved for human consumption in the United States.  Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is about to begin the process that might end in approval of the new type of salmon—which has been engineered by AquaBounty for faster growth. 

At the same time that other companies experiment with genetic engineering of pigs and other livestock, AquaBounty has been developing its strain of genetically modified salmon over the course of the last fifteen years.  The company claims its new salmon variety will be harmless to eat and represents scientific progress at its best.  However groups like the nonprofit organization Food and Water Watch say insufficient information is available to tell how eating genetically engineered fish might affect human health. 

Food and Water Watch claims the FDA has been reluctant to share information about genetically engineered salmon, and that studies the agency relies on for determining the risks are unreliable.  Rather than conduct its own scientific assessment of the health implications, the FDA has chosen to rely on AquaBounty itself for information about the impacts of genetically engineered fish species.  “The process for evaluation and testing of genetically engineered animals is one humongous question mark,” says Rich Bindell of Food and Water Watch.

Another concern of health and consumer groups is that companies selling genetically engineered salmon would not be required to label their products as genetically modified.  This is a problem that has long plagued activists concerned about genetically engineered varieties of plants, like corn and soybeans.  Because US law does not require labeling of genetically modified organisms, millions of US consumers almost certainly are consuming modified plant products without even being aware.  Now activists are worried similar problems will arise with genetically modified animals.

As one of the next steps in the approval process for genetically engineered salmon, the FDA has announced it will hold public hearings on September 19th, 20th, and 21st.  The agency is also taking written comments from the public, and Food and Water Watch has urged consumers to use the public comment period as a chance to object to genetically modified salmon.  The nonprofit says it is pushing the FDA to extend the public comment period and not to approve the modified fish strain for the market.

Photo credit: Dan Taylor

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