Following several years of controversy surrounding the safety of genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the FDA has announced that AquAdvantage salmon is as safe and nutritious to eat as the non-genetically engineered variety.
The FDA stated, “The FDA scientists rigorously evaluated extensive data submitted by the manufacturer, AquaBounty Technologies, and other peer-reviewed data, to assess whether AquAdvantage salmon met the criteria for approval established by law.”
The FDA says the data shows “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.”
Assessments of the environmental impact of the GE salmon found that “the approval would not have a significant impact on the environment of the United States.”
Critics have long feared that GE salmon might escape from AquaBounty facilities and disrupt salmon in the wild.
However, the FDA writes that “the multiple containment measures the company will use in the land-based facilities in Panama and Canada make it extremely unlikely that the fish could escape and establish themselves in the wild.”
Several consumer advocacy and anti-genetic engineering groups condemned the decision. The group Food and Water Watch has launched a petition asking President Obama to overturn the FDA’s approval.
A statement from the Consumers Union reads, “Unfortunately, the evidence of FDA’s evaluation of the AquAdvantage salmon suggests that FDA has set the bar very low.” The group accused the FDA of “sloppy science, small sample sizes, and questionable practices.
”The organization also challenged the FDA’s analysis of growth hormone levels in the flesh, accusing the agency of making a decision “despite having no data at all on growth hormone levels due to use of insensitive test methodology.”
The FDA released two guidance documents discussing their position on labeling and outlining what types of voluntary labeling would be accepted for non-GE salmon. The agency said food manufacturers may use phrases like “Not genetically engineered,” “Not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology,” and “We do not use Atlantic salmon produced using modern biotechnology.”
Despite the FDA’s decision, AquaBounty has faced criticism and lawsuits for their products. On Tuesday the Guardian reported that several environmental groups are suing the Canadian government in an attempt to end the production of GE salmon eggs.
The lawsuit claims AquaBounty is operating a “huge live experiment” with the genes of the wild Atlantic salmon.
The Canadian government previously gave AquaBounty permission to create GE salmon eggs in Canada and ship them to Panama to be grown before selling them on the market in the U.S. and Canada.
In April 2013 Food and Water Watch reported:
“When FDA first announced its intent to approve AquaBounty’s application in the fall of 2010, the public sent more than 400,000 comments in opposition. Now that opposition has grown to nearly 1.5 million people.”
The following year Kroger and Safeway, the nation’s two largest grocery chains,announced they would not sell the genetically engineered salmon. The two chains joined Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s in their opposition to the GE salmon.
So although the FDA has approved the fish for human consumption, it may be unlikely that Americans will encounter the product at their local grocer.