After much debate and controversy, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first genetically engineered animal for consumption – a salmon that grows two times as fast as its natural species.
Massachusetts-based AquaBounty produces Atlantic salmon that has a growth hormone from the Chinook salmon. Adding genes from ocean pouts (kind of like eels) created salmon ready for market in a year and a half; salmon typically takes three years to mature to a market-ready product.
These ‘Frankenfish’ have always been frowned upon by food-safety activists, environmental groups and the salmon fishing industry. They feel this exception is a slippery slope, opening the door for other genetically modified animals that are potentially unsafe/unpredictable.
“It was a flawed and irresponsible approval … It sets a very dangerous precedent, given our federal government agencies are ill-equipped to handle genetically engineered animals,” said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
“I think it is a grave mistake we will come to regret.”
Salmon fisherman have issues, too: what if AquaBounty’s genetic fish made their way to ocean waters, mating with wild Atlantic salmon? The result is unpredictable, and could lead to the decimation of wild populations. AquaBounty has countered the fishermen’s concerns, stating the only fish they produce are female and sterile, making crossbreeding impossible.
Having said that, the FDA insists they came to the decision “based on sound science and a comprehensive review,” claiming there’s no major difference between eating natural Atlantic salmon, and these man-made ones.
“All of that took time,” said Laura Epstein, a senior policy analyst in the FDA’s center for veterinary medicine. “As with many products that are the first of their kind, we’re very careful to be sure we’re getting everything right.”
Alaska is one state that relies on salmon as an export, and is a part of the State’s identity, too. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has long opposed the AquaBounty fish for these reasons, repeatedly pushing for delays in the FDA approval process.
“This harebrained decision goes to show that our federal agencies are incapable of using common sense,” Young said in a statement Thursday. “By embarking on this science experiment, the FDA ignores fundamental risk questions related to our wild fish species and food safety.”
AquaBounty, a small company that employs just 21 people, is aware of the fiery criticism, but are confident they can win the public over with their product.
“We hope they understand that we understand their concerns. And we’ve developed a product that mitigates many of the concerns they share and we share,” said AquaBounty chief executive Ron Stotish.
“I hope people take the time to consider the fact that we are an environmentally sustainable product, and that this might actually be a better way to grow salmon … We hope people consider it on its merits.”