FDA inconclusive on genetically modified salmon; determined safe

The U.S. FDA is nearing approval of genetically modified salmon for consumption. The landmark decision has a big impact on the world's food supply and the ethics of tinkering with nature.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is one step closer to approving genetically modified, or GM, salmon that grows twice as fast as conventional farmed fish.

It would be the first genetically modified animal ruled safe to eat in the U.S.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, an FDA advisory committee discussed but did not decide Monday whether the fish was safe to eat and moreover, whether it posed any threat to the environment.

The rub: The FDA has already published an analysis on its website concluding that GM salmon is both safe to eat and of minimal risk to the environment.

At the center of the debate: AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon, which contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a DNA fragment from the ocean pout that helps activate the gene. The gene has the handy side effect of speeding up development in the first year, slashing time-to-full-growth in half.

(SmartPlanet's own Boonsri Dickinson first wrote about the salmon earlier this month.)

Supporters say the fish can help America build its own domestic salmon market. (1.5 million tons of Atlantic salmon are produced globally each year, cites the Journal; the U.S. consumes about 450,000 tons, nearly all imported.)

Detractors say the sample size for the FDA study was too small -- 30 fish -- to be safe.

The core of the debate is whether humans ought to be tinkering with Mother Nature at the genetic level. On one hand, genetically altering food can help humans artificially "breed" species for traits they want; on the other hand, it can cause potentially dangerous side effects.

Moreover, there's the patent question: who owns what's on your dinner plate?

GM crops such as corn or soybeans are already prevalent in America. (St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto has been the most visible player in the space.) But the salmon marks the first time GM has made its way past flora to fauna.

AquaBounty has been producing genetically altered salmon since 1989. The fish are all female and sterile, and the company wants its fish only used for inland fisheries so they won't escape into the sea.

But things happen. The big question: can we deal with GM salmon escaping into and reproducing in the wild? Do we risk breaking established food chains? If the salmon take over, will Mother Nature naturally tip the scales against them and correct for an imbalance? And will it be fast enough not to adversely impact our own food sources, the very problem we're trying to solve?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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