Genetically modified salmon is now FDA approved. Graphic by Katie Gibson

Genetically modified salmon receives FDA approval

The FDA has approved a fish genetically engineered to develop more rapidly than non-genetically engineered salmon, named the AquAdvantage Salmon. It’s the first GMO animal approved for human consumption in the United States.

The AquAdvantage salmon develops twice as fast as non-GM Atlantic salmon, due to the over-expression of a growth hormone. AquaBounty Technologies, the organization that made the fish, has been attempting to get it through approval for just about 20 years. The fish is an Atlantic salmon which has been genetically modified to incorporate genes from various fish, including a growth hormone gene and the promoter of an antifreeze gene.

Genetically modified salmon is now FDA approved. Graphic by Katie Gibson
Genetically modified salmon is now FDA approved. Graphic by Katie Gibson

In a statement released November 20th by AquaBounty’s CEO Ron Stotish, he said, “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. Using land-based aquaculture systems, this rich source of protein and other nutrients can be farmed close to major consumer markets in a more sustainable manner.”

The FDA has only agreed to AquaBounty’s present breeding and growing setup, where fish are bred in Canada on Prince Edward Island, and sterilized eggs are shipped to the highlands of Panama to be developed to market size. On the off-chance that the product takes off and the organization needs to add additional facilities, each of these would need to get approved separately. “It’s not clear that it would be a simple process by any means,” Smith says.

With the current administrative fight behind it, AquaBounty still has to win over grocery stores and customers careful about GM products. “It’s difficult to disentangle consumer’s attitudes from their understanding of the technology,” Smith says, “there are a lot of politics of [GM organisms] that might inform people’s decision-making that might not have anything to do whatsoever with the technology.”

What’s more, in light of the fact that the new product can be labeled as farmed Atlantic salmon without mention of the genetic modification, shoppers may not know they’re eating it unless sellers explicitly decline to purchase it, Smith says. Target, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods have stated that they weren’t going to sell, or buy, the fish.