GE Salmon may gain FDA approval

The FDA is considering allowing a company to market a fish that has been genetically engineered.

If the FDA approves the sale of the salmon, it will be the first time the U.S. government allows such modified animals to be marketed for human consumption. The panel was convened by the agency to look at the science of the fish and make recommendations on its safety and environmental impact.

Ron Stotish, chief executive of the Massachusetts company that created the salmon, AquaBounty, said at Monday’s hearing that his company’s fish product is safe and environmentally sustainable.

FDA officials have largely agreed with him, saying that the salmon, which grows twice as fast as its conventional “sisters,” is as safe to eat as the traditional variety. But they have not yet decided whether to approve the request, saying there is no timeline for a decision.

One of the chief concerns most people have about genetically altered food is that it contains DNA. I kid you not. That concern is more prevalent where cloned animals are in question, but it’s just as incoherent.

But there are more reasonable concerns.

Critics have two main concerns: The safety of the food to humans and the salmon’s effect on the environment.

Because the altered fish has never been eaten before, they say, it could include dangerous allergens, especially because seafood is highly allergenic. They also worry that the fish will escape and intermingle with the wild salmon population, which is already endangered.They would grow fast and consume more food to the detriment of the conventional wild salmon, the critics fear.

There’s really no reason to suspect any extra allergies. These fish are being caused to grow faster through the use of hormones they already regularly produce; they’re just producing more hormones than they would without the inserted gene and regulator. If someone doesn’t have an allergy as a result of these hormones now, they won’t have an allergy to these new salmon.

As far as contamination is concerned, I doubt there will be any intermingling, but if it does happen, it seems unlikely the new fish will out-compete the current wild population. Natural selection could act to increase the frequency of hormone production relatively easily. It hasn’t. It’s unlikely the new population would be more fit in the given wild population’s environment.

I foresee this getting approval, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the FDA acquiesced to critic’s demands and forced a ‘warning’ to be placed on the fish listing it as genetically altered. This would be unfortunate since there is no effective difference between eating a wild population salmon and a genetically altered salmon. But it’s the FDA. There will be an unnecessary warning added; it’ll probably be removed in 5-10 years when it becomes even more clear that this fish is very safe to eat.