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Genetically Modified Salmon Should Be Headed to a Plate Near You

Designed to bulk up twice as fast as a regular fish, Frankenfish should get FDA approval soon

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Seared Atlantic salmon with sturgeon caviar, braised leeks and pureed potato. Photo: Renée Suen

The AquAdvantage salmonknown to some as “Frankenfish”—is a genetically modified version of the Atlantic salmon that may soon be brought to market by the folks at AquaBounty Technologies. Designed to pack on the pounds and grow more quickly than a regular Atlantic salmon, the genetically-tweaked fish could be on the way to a table near you in the near future. The Associated Press:

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday released its environmental assessment of the AquaAdvantage salmon, a faster-growing fish which has been subject to a contentious, yearslong debate at the agency. The document concludes that the fish “will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States.” Regulators also said that the fish is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon, a key concern for environmental activists.

The fish species, first developed in 1989 by researchers at Memorial University, has been undergoing review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1996. According to New York University bioethicist Art Caplan writing for NBC News,

The genetically altered “AquAdvantage” salmon is Atlantic salmon made from an egg, which has been injected with a gene from a Chinook salmon. That gene, which is stuck to a bit of DNA from another fish—the ocean pout, carries instructions for making more growth hormone than an Atlantic salmon ordinarily makes. More growth hormone means faster growth and, thus, more salmon to eat much more quickly.

This genetic concoction was first used in 1989, to create a “founder” genetically modified (GM) salmon. The GM salmon is now in its tenth generation. Many people have eaten it. No nasty side-effects have been observed.

According to the AP, if the FDA moves to give the modified salmon the go-ahead for human consumption, it will be “the first scientifically altered animal approved for food anywhere in the world.”

One of the main worries with the Frankenfish is that should one escape from captivity and breed with wild salmon, it could pass on its new-found genes, forever changing the wild population. The AP:

AquaBounty has maintained that the fish is safe and that there are several safeguards against environmental problems. The fish would be bred female and sterile, though a very small percentage might still be able to breed. The company said the potential for escape is low. The FDA backed these assertions in documents released in 2010.

According to ABC News, “health professionals say they aren’t worried the lab-engineered salmon will cause more allergies or other harmful effects than any other breed of fish.”

Bioethicist Caplan says that the worry over the possibility of the new modified fish appearing on dinner plates is a misdirected use of anxiety.

Those who claim to be worried about what we eat should worry a lot less about people eating more genetically engineered salmon and a whole lot more about the number of Americans who eat fast food daily. Those who care about public health should not target bigger fish but the drive-thru.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Your Genetic Future: Horse-Dogs, Plantimals and Mini-Rhino Pets
What Will Convince People That Genetically Modified Foods Are Okay?
Food, Modified Food

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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