FDA approves GM salmon for sale in the US

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted permission for genetically-modified salmon to be sold in the United States.

The FDA has granted an application from AquaBounty Technologies, a company based in the U.S. state of Massachusetts that has been seeking permission to sell its genetically-modified salmon under the brand name AquAdvantage, according to an announcement on the FDA’s website today.

“The FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat,” said Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The FDA announced the approval as part of a collection of decisions regarding genetically-modified plants and animals used for food. The AquaBounty decision marks the first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for food in the United States.

The FDA did not issue a labeling requirement, but did offer guidance “for manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their products as containing ingredients from GE or non-GE sources”

A statement from the company on the FDA’s ruling described AquAdvantage as a product that will help meet the country’s demand for farmed salmon efficiently and with a minimal impact on the environment.

“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,” AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish said in the statement. “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.”

AquaBounty has had a long time to wait for the FDA’s approval – the company’s initial application dates back to 1995. The company and its product have faced fierce opposition from groups ranging from NGOs to government officials. Former Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska famously described the company’s AquAdvantage Salmon product as “Frankenfish” in 2010, an unflattering moniker that has stuck ever since. After today’s ruling, U.S. congressmen and senators from Alaska were quick to respond. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also using the term “Frankenfish,” noted this summer she introduced a bill with a labeling requirement for those selling GM salmon. That bill, she said, is all the more important now.

“I am livid at the FDA’s announcement to approve genetically engineered ‘salmon’—what seems to be more science experiment than fish or food,” Murkowski said. “I have adamantly opposed the approval of GE salmon, both for the health of Americans and the sustainability of our fisheries, but now that the decision has been made, the next step must be to ensure that Americans know what they are consuming.”

Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for environmental NGO Friends of the Earth, noted more than 60 grocery store chains, representing more than 9,000 stores in the United States, have issued past statements to Friends of the Earth and other NGOs pledging not to sell GM salmon.

“It’s really clear that the majority of consumers don’t want to eat this poorly-studied and poorly-labeled fish,” she said.

Major NGO concerns, Perls said, in part include fears that the salmon will escape an open-ocean pen and begin interbreeding with wild salmon, damaging the wild salmon gene pool. AquaBounty’s statement indicated the company was planning to raise its salmon in land-based aquaculture systems, but Perls said she was concerned the company would use other facilities to hatch eggs and raise juveniles, and those need to be watched and regulated, too.

“It’s not just the final state that we have to be concerned about. It’s the entire process,” she said.

Perls said a big part of the problem is what she perceives as a lack of adequate regulation by the U.S. and foreign governments. More oversight, she said, might change the positions of GM salmon’s detractors, but the oversight isn’t there yet.

“Until that is done, we should not have new GMO approvals,” she said.

Check out the history of AquaBounty's fight for FDA approval of its GM salmon product.


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