The company, AquaBounty Technologies, actually approached the FDA around 20 years ago, so the process for approval was a very lengthy one and was fraught with controversy, according to The Washington Post. In essence, these salmon were genetically altered with genes from two other edible fish, which changes their rate of growth. The FDA has determined that this salmon is as safe as (and no more allergenic than) other Atlantic salmon and that there is reasonable certainty of no harm to humans upon its consumption.
The benefits? These salmon are ready for market weight in around half the time as regular salmon, and they require 25 percent less food to get to that point — this not only lowers the cost of the fish for consumers, but the whole process is easier on the environment.
Keep in mind, though, that even though humans have been genetically modifying their crops and animals for many, many years, selectively breeding to bring about desired characteristics (better results, stronger herds and so on), it's only been in recent decades that the biotechnology is there to alter organisms at the genetic level, incorporating genes from a distinctly different, unrelated organism to confer those traits into another crop — or animal.
The FDA's decision wasn't met without complaint or debate, however. For starters, the government will not require that this salmon be labeled as a genetically modified organism, or GMO. This means the average consumer will be unaware of the source of her fish purchase, which can be a problem for some.
Some of the worries about GMOs, when it comes to these specific fish, have been countermanded by the FDA's report. One risk of genetically engineering an organism is that you can alter its native allergens, which can be devastating for an individual with food allergies. Another concern is the transference of antibiotic-resistant genes to a human's gut flora, which can also be troublesome. Plus, the very nature of altering genes is concerning to some who feel that should be left up to nature.
Another issue is that there is risk to housing large populations of genetically modified fish. Part of the approval process meant the FDA had to asses the possibility of escape, which can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem, causing competition, and bring up concerns of breeding with the local fish population. The FDA, in its report, shares that it's confident escape risk is minimal.
For now, the company has about two years until there is enough product to enter the marketplace, so it's possible they will change their minds about labeling (after all, transparency is vital when it comes to our food and our health). Until then, however, we must realize that things are definitely changing, and the more aware of it we are, the better off we may be.
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