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FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Salmon

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a consumer update that a brand of genetically engineered (GE) salmon is indeed safe for sale and for consumption by humans.

After an “exhaustive and rigorous scientific” review, the FDA said it determined that AquAdvantage salmon – genetically engineered to grow faster than its non-GE counterparts – is as safe to eat and as nutritious as any nongenetically engineered Atlantic salmon.

FDA scientists evaluated claims from AquaBounty Technologies, the developer, and other peer-reviewed data to determine that the salmon met criteria for approval with regard to law, safety, and effectiveness.

“The data demonstrated that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and that the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth,” the FDA said.

The agency also found production of the GE salmon would have little impact on the environment in the U.S. While it cites the containment measures used by the producer that will ensure none of the salmon will escape into the wild, it also mentions that the salmon will be grown in Panama and Canada – not within the U.S.

Market will drive GE livestock production

The news may have some other animal and fish producers wondering: If GE salmon is accepted, could genetically engineered beef or pork be sold in the U.S.?

Dustin Pendell, a professor of agriculture economics at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, said the possibility of more genetically modified foods being authorized for human consumption will be market driven.

If, for example, the genetically engineered salmon sells well and there’s little pushback from consumers, then producers may see a money-making opportunity. If sales are not robust, however, and buyers shun the GE salmon in favor of non-GE fish, other fish and livestock producers will no doubt take note.

“The markets will drive this eventually,” he said. “If consumers start saying 'We don’t want this,’” other producers probably won’t invest in something that isn’t a money-maker.

Some enterprising companies may be able to capitalize on the new product in the way that grass-fed beef marketers do: by making sure everybody knows their product isn’t genetically modified, Pendell said.

Businesses that already sell salmon might put a label on their products saying they’re not genetically engineered, then bump the price.

“Companies that aren’t selling the GM salmon are already putting a label on their packaging, so why not put a few more words on it and catch a premium,” he said.

Genetically engineered food may be a foregone conclusion as global populations increase and the amount of available water decreases, James Murray, a professor at the University of California-Davis, who has developed genetically modified goats that produce milk with antibacterial proteins, told the British Broadcasting Corp. earlier this year.

“We need to produce more food with less land and water while not degrading the environment for future generations,” Murray told the BBC in March. “We need to use all the tools we have available, and genetic engineering is one of them.”

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