While the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) delays its decision on whether to approve fast-growing genetically-modified farmed salmon for human consumption, it is being tugged by consumer groups on one side who urge for specific labeling on the modified fish, and the salmon industry on the other reminding the Agency to stick to current rules. According to the Salmon industry, current rules prevent specific labeling - some FDA voices have admitted this is true.
AquaBounty Technologies Inc. has modified a type of salmon by giving it a gene from another fish, which doubles the speed at which it grows. The genetically modified salmon is known as AquAdvantage salmon.
If the FDA does approve the AquAdvantage salmon for human consumption, it will be the first genetically modified animal to do so. Genetically modified fruits and vegetables have been approved.
Unless there is something materially distinct in the AquAdvantage salmon, it is not possible to place a different/specific label on it under current rules. The salmon would have to have a different nutritional consistency, such as a fatty acid level - then the labeling would have to mention this. A preliminary examination of documents did not reveal any significant differences between the two types of salmon, the FDA informs.
Members of an FDA advisory panel did not make any clear recommendations on whether the modified salmon should be approved - some said the fish is safe to eat, while others wanted more compelling evidence.
Consumer groups insist that a genetically engineered change is in itself a material alteration, and as such, the labeling should say so.
An FDA spokesperson said yesterday that there is no timeline for the decision on the application - most likely it is months away.
Various consumer groups have urged the FDA to consider the fact that members of the general public want to know if their fish is genetically engineered.
The FDA, however, does not appear to consider the fact that a food was made using genetic engineering to be a material difference in itself.
In a press release, the FDA has attempted to answer some consumer concerns:
- If approved, the genetically modified salmon (GM salmon) will be raised in inland tanks, not ocean net pens, making it extremely unlikely they would ever escape and taint the current genetic make-up of wild fish. These GM fish are also infertile.
- The FDA says it has released all detailed summaries of all the data related to the application on which it relies for its analysis. No documents or data have been suppressed.
- The FDA stresses that the review of the GM salmon is conducted under the same process as the drug-approval process, and includes a rigorous analysis of food safety and application of a stringent safety standard: "reasonable certainty of no harm".
- The likelihood of being allergic to GM salmon is the same as with non-GM salmon. An allergy may occur because it is a finfish - one of the eight most allergenic foods in the USA - not because of any genetic tweaking.
The Soil Association, UK, said that a fish that was bred to be infertile and escaped into the wild might still have irreversible consequences.
According to a Consumers Union nationwide poll, 95% of respondents said they thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled, and 78% strongly agreed with this.
Source: FDA, The Ecologist, Consumers Union
Written by Christian Nordqvist