The US Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate.
The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon.
Normally salmon do not make growth hormone in cold climate. But the pout’s on-switch keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years.
The F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. Furthermore, they must decide on the environmental risks from the salmon. Some experts have speculated that fast-growing fish could out-compete wild fish for food or mates.
Nowadays the vast majority all Atlantic salmon now comes from fish farms, not the wild. According to its promoters the genetically modified salmon would be grown only in inland tanks or other contained facilities, not in ocean pens where they might escape into the wild. And the fish would all be female and sterile, making it impossible for them to mate – similar to bananas.
AquaBounty Technologies submitted data to the F.D.A. showing that its salmon was indistinguishable from non-engineered Atlantic salmon in terms of taste, color, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins and other nutrients.
A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.