The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its determination that genetically engineered (GE) salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc., is as safe to eat as conventional salmon and will have little effect on the environment. Containing genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and ocean pout that accelerate growth and maturation, AquAdvantage® salmon is the first GE animal approved for human consumption.

After spending more than a decade reviewing data on food safety and environmental impacts, the agency apparently concluded that (i) “the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish,” (ii) “food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals,” (iii) “the genetic engineering is safe for the fish,” and (iv) “the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth.” FDA also found that the multiple containment measures taken by land-based production facilities are sufficient to prevent the fish from mixing with wild populations. See FDA News Release, November 19, 2015.

As reported in Issue 15 of this Update, AquaBounty’s GE salmon first drew scrutiny from health and environmental groups as early as 2003, when the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology issued a report suggesting that attempts to regulate transgenic fish as “new animal drugs” may not survive legal challenges. In the wake of FDA’s announcement, consumer groups are still divided over the regulation of bioengineered animals. While the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) praised the rigorous approval process and called for transparency in marketing the fish, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) vowed to file a lawsuit against the agency. In addition, a coalition of Alaskan lawmakers dedicated to banning the sale and importation of so-called “Frankenfish” have condemned the decision as “harebrained.”

“I am livid at the FDA’s announcement to approve genetically engineered ‘salmon’—what seems to be more science experiment than fish or food,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “I have adamantly opposed the approval of GE salmon, both for the health of Americans and the sustainability of our fisheries, but now that the decision has been made, the next step must be to ensure that Americans know what they are consuming. I have introduced both a bill and provision in the appropriations process to mandate the labeling of Frankenfish, and it is more imperative than ever, after this potentially disastrous decision, to make sure they become law.” See CSPI Statement, CFS Press Release and Sen. Murkowksi Press Release, November 19, 2015.