After years of review and endless controversy, the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the nation’s first genetically altered animal — a salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its natural counterpart.
AquAdvantage, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish. The result is a fish that is large enough for consumption in about a year and a half, rather than the typical three years.
Food-safety activists, environmental groups and the salmon fishing industry, not to mention lawmakers from Alaska, have long opposed the approval of the fish — which they derisively refer to as “Frankenfish” — and have argued that its existence could open the door to a broad range of potentially unsafe genetically modified animal foods. Knowing an FDA approval was likely, critics have in recent years won commitments from some of the nation’s most recognizable chains — including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target — to not sell the fish.
The FDA said Thursday that its decision was “based on sound science and a comprehensive review,” and that regulators are confident that the genetically altered fish is as safe to eat as a normal Atlantic salmon, with no discernible difference in its nutritional value. Officials noted that the agency held meetings, combed through thousands of public comments and conducted scientific and environmental assessments about the AquaBounty fish before finally approving it.
Supporters argue that this fish will prevent overfishing of wild salmon and will also help protect the ocean and marine habitats.