FDA Closer To Approving Genetically Modified Salmon
The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has moved one step closer to approving the first genetically modified animal food for human consumption, genetically modified Atlantic salmon. The impending decision has caught the eye of investors, biotechnology companies, consumer groups and environmental organizations.
On September 3, 2010, a panel of scientists advised the FDA that AquaAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified version of Atlantic salmon, was safe to eat. The panel also found that genetically modified salmon have no biologically relevant differences from ordinary farm raised Atlantic salmon and both contain the same amount of nutrients.
The key difference between the genetically modified salmon and the ordinary salmon is its rate of growth. Normally, Atlantic salmon take close to 3 years to fully develop because its growth rate slows during cold weather. However, genetically modified Atlantic salmon have been modified by adding growth hormone genes from Chinook salmon and ocean pout, allowing these fish to grow to full size in only 18 months. The quicker growth rates allow farmers to increase production and yields.
The FDA is evaluating the genetically modified salmon as it does new veterinary drugs. As a result, much of the research and data gathered to determine the safety of these fish has been kept confidential. This has drawn criticism from consumer groups and independent labs concerned that an overworked and understaffed FDA may be missing something in its evaluation. Consumer groups are also concerned the genetically modified salmon could escape breeding tanks and breed with wild salmon. The FDA believes that genetically modified salmon will not pose a threat to the environment because 99% of all genetically modified salmon will be sterile and, unlike traditional farmed raised salmon which are raised in ocean based tanks, genetically modified salmon will be raised in inland tanks, minimizing the chances of escape.
An approval of genetically modified salmon for human consumption could open the door for other genetically modified animals to receive approval for human consumption. Currently, scientists are seeking FDA approval for a genetically modified hog, and are developing genetically modified cows that are resistant to mad cow disease.
The FDA is scheduled to hold public hearings on genetically modified salmon from September 19-21, 2010. The hearings will include discussions on the technology used to produce genetically modified animals and FDAs regulatory procedures for evaluating these animals, a discussion on the animal health, food safety, and environmental concerns associated with genetically modified salmon, and a discussion on potential labeling issues should the FDA approve genetically modified salmon for human consumption. More information regarding the upcoming hearings can be found on FDAs website at FDA Announces Public Meeting on Genetically Engineered Atlantic Salmon.
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