FDA Approves the First Genetically Modified Animal for Human Consumption

GMO Fish2

November 21, 2015
Dateline: Klondike, Texas
by Tony Isaacs, Natural Health Advocate and Journalist

(UtopiaSilver.com) In a benchmark decision that may go down as one of the worst in a long history of bad decisions, the FDA approves the first genetically modified animal for human consumption: genetically engineered salmon.

The AquAdvantage salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from an eel-like creature called the ocean pout that keeps the transplanted gene continuously active (whereas the salmon’s own growth hormone gene is active only parts of the year). The company touts the new fish as being able to grow to market weight in 18 to 20 months, compared with 28 to 36 months for conventionally farmed salmon.

The fish has become a lightning rod for issues associated with genetically modified foods and it’s lengthy approval process indicates the degree of discord between GMO proponents and opponents. Three issues loom large over the issue of the GMO salmon: safety, escape into the environment and labeling.


Concerns about both the safety and the potential allergies of the new fish have been expressed by groups such as Consumers Union and Food and Water Watch. Consumers Union pointed out small sample sizes and “inadequate analysis.” It is not likely that the FDA’s assessment will put any of the concerned group’s minds at ease, since the final decision is mostly consistent with preliminary FDA findings from 2010 when the agency determined that there was only a “reasonable certainty of no harm.”

When the FDA examined the new salmon detractors have called the “Frankenfish”, it noted evidence of abnormalities including “increased frequency of skeletal malformations, increased prevalence of jaw erosions and multi-systemic inflammation”. Normally, such findings would seem to be cause for alarm; however, the FDA chose to not compare the GMO salmon with natural salmon found in the wild and instead found the abnormalities to be within the range of abnormalities found in farmed salmon which had been genetically manipulated for accelerated growth through other means.

Such a comparison is far from reassuring considering the widespread abnormalities observed in farmed salmon. In Chile, where most of our factory-farmed salmon come from, a condition called “screamer disease,” where severe facial disfigurements lock their jaws permanently open has been observed in up to 80 percent of the salmon,

In Norway, which is another major salmon exporter, 70 percent of farmed salmon suffer from “humpback” spinal compression deformities. In all, 20 different types of spinal malformations have been observed repeatedly in factory-farmed Atlantic salmon.

Escape into the Environment

If the genetically engineered salmon escape into the wild they could outcompete or interbreed with native fish and decimate their populations. AquaBounty maintains that it has several layers of safeguards to prevent escape into the wild in it’s facilities in Canada, where the genetically engineered eggs come from and Panama, where the fish will be raised on land in closed pens. The FDA has called the possibility of the salmon’s escape “highly unlikely,” and has said it is equally unlikely that the fish will breed in the wild. AquaBounty also points out that they are only raising sterile female GMO salmon.

Many fish scientists and others disagree. They point out the obvious fact that AquaBounty’s future plans are to extend the GMO salmon operations far beyond the current Canadian and Panamanian operations and say that it is inevitable that some of the superfish would escape into the wild The scientists also believe that a small percentage of the fish likely will be fertile and that wild salmon will try to mate with the larger fish

In 1999, Purdue scientists warned of risks from transgenic fish in the wild. The researchers found larger transgenic fish were more attractive mates and that the traits of transgenic fish would quickly spread through the wild population. Since transgenic fish offspring live shorter, the native population would eventually be wiped out. Widespread concern followed the study because in aquaculture, the escape of farmed fish is inevitable.

When it comes to escape sterility Consumers Union says that the agency’s determination that escape is a remote possibility was built on “inadequate science and unfounded assumptions” and also expressed concern that the sterilization process is less than 100 percent successful. The FDA only requires a 95 percent sterilization rate and AquaBounty admits that their sterilization is less than 100 percent, but says that the rates are are generally over 99 percent. That still works out to 10,000 fertile fish per million. Additionally, other species thought to be sterile have managed to mutate and reproduce. One is reminded of the Jeff Goldblum quote in Jurassic Park: “Nature finds a way”.


If concerned consumers may believe that they can simply vote with their wallets against the new engineered fish, they should think again. Unlike many other countries, the United States has no requirement that genetically modified food be labeled as such, and the salmon is no exception. An AquaBounty spokesman said that they probably will not identify the new fish as being genetically engineered. “When you’re the first and only, labeling is a dangerous decision,” the spokesman said. “We’d like to label it as a premium product, but we’ll probably introduce it as ‘Atlantic salmon.’ ”

The FDA regulates genetically engineered animals much like they do foods and supplements purported to have health benefits, using the argument that the gene inserted into the animal meets the definition of a medicine (in this instance a veterinary medicine). Critics have called the FDA’s regulation of the new salmon an inadequate solution intended to squeeze a new technology into an old regulatory framework. They also maintain that FDA is not as qualified as other government agencies to do environmental assessments.

The FDA’s approval is reminiscent of another dark FDA decision: the day the FDA’s outgoing director approved the dangerous artificial sweetener Aspartame over the objections of the FDA’s own scientists. Notably, food and beverage companies which had opposed the new sweetener soon flocked to jump on the Aspartame bandwagon and only in recent years have such companies began to abandon the use of Aspartame as evidence of danger has mounted.

Similar to Aspartame, while many fish companies have publicly voiced objections or decried interest, AquaBounty co-founder Elliot Entis says that “There’s not a salmon company in the world that hasn’t talked to us privately.”

Unlike Aspartame, a chemically created food, if a living GMO item is approved and later found to have unforeseen dangers or mutates or combines with other species in unforeseen ways, it will be pretty much impossible to put the GMO genie back in the bottle once it has been released. The consequences could be catastrophic as the FDA approves the first genetically modified animal for human consumption.

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