The United States Food and Drug Administration are close to approving the release of genetically modified salmon to the American market. If approved, it will be the first genetically modified animal to be sold as food to consumers.
Natural Atlantic salmon contains a gene which switches off growth in the colder months. A company called AquaBounty Technologies has developed a way to turn off this gene by injecting the fertilized eggs of Atlantic salmon with genetic material from the Ocean Pout (an eel like fish). This enables the AquAdvantage® Salmon to continue growing through the winter months reaching market size in 16 – 18 months instead of three years. The eggs are also injected with a growth gene from the Pacific Chinook Salmon which help it to grow to market size.
Consumers and environmentalists are concerned with potential health and environmental issues which simply can not be known at this date. While AquaBounty insists that the fish is safe, before the product can be sold the FDA requires proof that, “The altered species does not differ, biochemically, from its safe-to-eat, naturally occurring cousin.” The company compared frozen proteins, blood tests and nutrient analyses from naturally occurring salmon against their genetically modified type. The tests basically showed no difference other than the amount of vitamin B6 which was not enough to raise concern.
Although scientifically the fish is basically the same as wild salmon, there is no way of knowing how the GM salmon will effect people with allergies, unborn fetuses or what long term effects it may cause.
Another question is what potential impact these GM fish have on the environment. Although the AquAdvantage Salmon will be kept in isolated tanks and is sterile, the FDA says that up to 5% of the eggs may be fertile. Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, says the sterilization technology is not foolproof and some fish are bound to escape from facilities. If GM salmon then breeds with wild salmon, there is no way of knowing what this will do to already endangered wild salmon species.
In Australia, foods containing GM products are required by law to be labelled (unless they are in highly processed foods or in amounts less than 1%), the US does not have such laws. Currently the FDA rules that labels are required for foods if they have material diffence in the products end result. Since test have shown the GM salmon’s composition is basically the same as normal fish there would be no need to label the salmon. David Edwards the head of animal biotechology for the Biotechnology Industry Organization says that labeling the AquaAdvantage salmon would, “just cause confusion for the consumers.”
If approved, the fish will be on the market within 2-3 years. Australians should be thankful there are laws in our country that require GM foods to be labeled, so we can make the choice to eat GM foods or not.
Spare a thought for our American friends who wont have this option.