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GE Salmon Cleared for U.S. Dinner Plates

More than three years after the FDA approved, for the first time, a genetically engineered animal as safe to eat, the government opened the door for AquaBounty Technologies to grow and sell its GE salmon in the U.S. A biotech trade group said the fish, which developers say grows twice as fast as as conventional Atlantic salmon on 25% less feed, will “contribute to a more sustainable food supply.”

The FDA said it deactivated on Friday an import alert that blocked import of the salmon. AquaBounty Chief Executive Slyvia Wulf said the action will allow the company “to begin producing and marketing AquAdvantage salmon in the U.S.” The Massachusetts-based company has a “grow out” facility in Indiana. AquaBounty said its GE salmon would reduce U.S. reliance on imported seafood.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who blocked U.S. sale of the AquAdvantage salmon since 2015, said she is skeptical that federal GMO food labeling rules will mandate labeling of the fish, so she is pursuing legislation to require “genetically engineered” to appear in the market name. “I continue to have serious concerns about splicing DNA from two animals to produce a new marketable fish, essentially creating a new species. American consumers deserve to know what they purchasing and ultimately eating,” said Murkowski.

Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, said, “We will not give up this battle to protect Alaska’s world-class and sustainable fisheries and the right of consumers to know what they’re putting on their dinner plates.”

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a trade group, said the FDA announcement was overdue. “This milestone paves the way for future innovations that contribute to a more sustainable food supply for a growing world and lessen the impact on our environment.”

AquaBounty pursued FDA approval of its salmon for two decades. Its strain of Atlantic salmon includes a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon so it consumes 25% less feed and grows to marketable size twice as fast as conventional salmon, according to the company. For its GE strain, AquaBounty inserted a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon into Atlantic salmon.

In a statement, the FDA said the recently issued GMO food labeling from USDA supersede its authority over labels on biotech food. Under a rider that Murkowski attached to FDA funding bills, the agency was obliged to block sale of GE salmon until it issued regulations for special labels on the fish. The USDA regulations go into effect next January 1. Compliance becomes mandatory two years later.

“Instead of opening the market to high-cost, risky technology like GMO salmon — particularly in this time of weakened government oversight — we need to reinvest in protecting our wild rivers and wild fish,” said Rose Marcario, CEO of the clothing company Patagonia.

In late 2015, just after FDA approval of the GE salmon, activists said they had commitments from 10 U.S. grocery chains not to sell the salmon. AquaBounty made its first sale of AquAdvantage salmon in summer 2017 — in Canada, 10,000 pounds at $5.30 a pound. Canada approved the GE salmon six months after the FDA did.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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