Fast-Growing Salmon Are First FDA-Approved Genetically Modified Animal

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After several years’ worth of hearings, applications, and reviews, today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically modified fish raised in captivity, for human consumption. Developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, the fast-growing salmon is the first genetically engineered (GE) animal to receive FDA approval as a food product.

In a press release, the agency stated that its approval relied on “sound science and a comprehensive review.” Per the FDA’s guidelines regarding safety and efficacy, the GE salmon are “safe to eat, the introduced DNA is safe for the fish itself, and the salmon meet the sponsor’s claim about faster growth.” The FDA further determined that “food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon,” and that the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon themselves bears “no biologically relevant differences ... compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.”

Courtesy AquaBounty

Engineered with three chromosomes instead of the usual two, the “triploid” fish are genetically closest to Atlantic salmon, but contain an added growth hormone borrowed from Pacific Chinook salmon, plus a gene from another, eel-like fish to keep hormone output activated year-round. This key tweak lets AquAdvantage fish grow twice as fast as their unmodified genetic forebears, and may make for easier, quicker food production in urban areas. 

Despite the FDA approval, don't expect filet o’ GE fish to start filling up supermarket freezers near you anytime soon. Per the agency's specifications, the fish “may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama.” The agency has also taken steps to ensure that AquAdvantage swimmers can’t break out of captivity and into local ecosystems, requiring AquaBounty to maintain “multiple and redundant measures” in its facilities to contain the animals.  

[h/t BBC News]