On Thursday federal health officials approved a Massachusetts company's request to produce genetically modified salmon, making it the first genetically modified food available for human consumption in the United States.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the fish is as safe and nutritious as non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon. As a result, the fish will not have to be labelled as a genetically engineered product, agency officials said.
No nutritional difference
Manipulating the fish's DNA allows the animal to grow faster and reach consumers more quickly than non-genetically modified, farm-raised Atlantic salmon, the agency said.
"The FDA has thoroughly analysed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat," Dr Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Centre for Veterinary Medicine, said at a media briefing.
Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said the FDA can "only require additional labelling of food derived from genetically engineered source food if there is a material difference".
After five years of study, the FDA didn't find any nutritional difference between the genetically modified salmon and conventional salmon, Durham said. The FDA isn't aware of any information that foods from genetically engineered sources differ from their non-genetically engineered counterparts or are less safe, she added.
Mayne said there's no way consumers could know they were eating the modified salmon. The only way to be sure that salmon you're eating is not genetically modified is to buy "wild caught salmon", she said.
Under FDA approval, AquaBounty Technologies cannot raise the salmon in the United States; it can only be raised on fish farms in Canada and Panama. Also, no other company is authorised to raise this type of fish for sale in the United States, the agency said.
Female and sterile
The FDA said it's convinced that measures will be put in place to prevent the genetically altered salmon from escaping from the farms and into the wild, so they wouldn't affect the environment.
These measures include a series of physical barriers in the tanks and plumbing that carries water out of the facility.
Also, the AquAdvantage salmon will be female and sterile, so if any were to escape they wouldn't be able to reproduce with other salmon, the agency said.
The FDA and the governments of Canada and Panama will inspect the facilities.
The modified salmon is opposed by some consumer and environmental groups that are sceptical of safety measures.
"Today, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically engineered food animal, AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon, despite insufficient safety testing and widespread opposition.
This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition," Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, said in a news release.
On Thursday the FDA also issued two guidance documents: One covers voluntary labelling indicating whether food has or has not been derived from genetically engineered Atlantic salmon. The other is a final guidance on voluntary labelling indicating whether food has or has not been derived from genetically engineered plants.
These guidances offer recommendations to manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their products with information about whether the foods contain ingredients from genetically modified sources.