WEDNESDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Opponents of genetically
modified salmon, as well as consumer activists and
environmentalists, told a U.S. Food and Drug Administration
advisory panel Tuesday that it would be irresponsible not to
require labels on the fish if it is approved for humans to eat.
The American public has the right to know what it is consuming,
the speakers said.
The advisory panel heard from opponents and supporters of the
fish -- including the developer of the fish, Massachusetts-based
AquaBounty Technologies -- as it held two days of hearings that
concluded Tuesday to review the science of the fish that grows
twice as fast as conventional salmon, and to hear public comment on
whether the fish should be labeled. Current federal guidelines
would not require the fish to be labeled if the FDA determines the
animal has the same material makeup as conventional salmon, the
Associated Press reported.
AquaBounty says that genetically modified salmon has the same
flavor, texture, color and odor as conventional fish.
The FDA has yet to decide if the fish can be sold to consumers
or whether it should be labeled, and it could be months before the
agency does so, the
If the FDA approves the fish, it would mark the first time a
genetically modified animal has been approved for America's dinner
plates and restaurant menus. Currently, genetically modified
soybeans and corn are being sold for people to eat.
AquaBounty believes that, if approved, the fish could help
reduce pollution, disease and other problems associated with
saltwater fish farms, as well as provide an alternative source of
seafood to help reduce the impact of overfishing.
But opponents of approval, including many consumer advocates,
worry that the fish would pose a threat to both the health of
consumers and the environment.
On Sept. 3, a scientific panel of experts that advises the FDA
paved the way for the approval of the genetically modified salmon,
calling it "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon."
The FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee went on to say
that the fish contained the same amount of nutrients and had "no
biologically relevant differences" from ordinary farmed Atlantic
That's what worries consumer advocates, who say approving the
salmon is opening the door to all sorts of genetically engineered
animals, such as pigs and other mammals.
The FDA is regulating genetically engineered animals as it would
a new veterinary drug, which means that much of the research and
information about the product is being kept confidential, said
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch in
"We don't know if it's safe for humans to eat and the only research that has been done was done by the company," according to Hauter. "The FDA is an under-resourced agency that has had so much trouble with the regulatory system for foods -- we've had tainted eggs, poisonous peanuts and other contaminations -- and is now taking on something in a very non-transparent way."
Recently, Food & Water Watch was joined by 30 other animal
welfare, consumer, environmental and fisheries groups, including
the Sierra Club, which issued a statement citing concerns that the
fish could escape and pose an environmental threat. Previously,
another group of consumer advocates and others warned that
"transgenic fish" could introduce new or unknown allergens into the
AquaBounty creates its salmon by taking a growth gene from the
Chinook salmon and a gene "promoter" from the ocean pout, another
type of fish, said John Buchanan, AquaBounty's director of research
and development. The pout gene promoter simply turns on the Chinook
salmon growth gene, and is not actually "expressed" [active] in the
modified fish. The resulting salmon grow to market weight about
twice as fast as ordinary Atlantic salmon, though they don't get
While it typically takes about three years for salmon to grow to
market weight, AquaBounty's salmon get there in about 18 months,
To safeguard the environment, Buchanan said the eggs will be
treated so that all fish that grow from them will be sterile
females. That means they will not be able to reproduce, nor will
they come into contact with males to reproduce with, said Buchanan,
whose firm would sell the treated eggs.
While farm-raised salmon are typically grown in ocean-based
tanks, the genetically modified fish would be grown in land-based
tanks, also minimizing the chances of escape, he said.
"We have done a tremendous amount of work geared toward regulatory approval to show that the fish is healthy and safe," Buchanan said.
Genetically modified animals have been produced since the 1970s,
according to background information in the FDA's briefing
materials, but none has been approved for human consumption.
AquaBounty said bringing the salmon to market would take at
least 18 months after approval. Farmers who want to grow the fish
would also need FDA approval of their facilities.
Read what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel
had to say about
genetically modified salmon.