AquaBounty Technologies of Maynard, Mass., claims to offer the world’s “most sustainable” salmon, and according to recent earnings reports, the company sold approximately five tons of genetically modified filets at market price to customers in Canada last year.
The genetically engineered salmon, branded by the company as AquAdvantage, contains genes from other fish species. These foreign additions allow the fish to grow faster and larger than traditional salmon counterparts, effectively providing a more efficient option for hatcheries.
While this new wave of fish is already on Canadian tables, it’s yet to make its way to the saute pans of the United States, as debate over proper labeling procedures has yet to conclude.
Despite the current red tape, The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not believe that the genetically modified product poses a risk to human health.
“The data demonstrated that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE [genetically engineered] salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth,” states the FDA on its website.
Tom Schultz, molecular biologist and assistant professor of the practice at the Duke University Marine Conservation Molecular Facility, concurs with the FDA’s ruling.
“Do I believe it’s safe? Absolutely,” Shultz said before comparing the modern genetic practices with much more antiquated farming and breeding techniques.
“If you look at what we’ve done to domesticated crops and domesticated animals for hundreds of years, it’s not much different from genetic modifications,” he said.
“When you look at the genes that they’re putting in from other fish to these strains of salmon, that doesn’t bother me at all,” he continued before adding that “now we’re simply able to go in and splice specific genes with much more precision.”
Shultz also sees the breeding of genetically modified salmon posing little risk to the environment.
Though some who oppose the practice have argued that escaped AquAdvantage stock could hurt ecosystems by mating, Shultz believes that keeping the fish in landlocked, properly filtered fish tanks would minimize this risk.
The FDA seems to agree.
“In addition, FDA assessed the environmental impacts of approving this application and found that the approval would not have a significant impact on the environment of the United States,” the agency said on its website. “That’s because the multiple containment measures the company will use in the land-based facilities in Panama and Canada make it extremely unlikely that the fish could escape and establish themselves in the wild.”
Shultz added that if the proper precautions were not followed, it’s impossible to tell at this point what consequences genetically modified salmon could have on natural habitats if released into the wild.
AquaBounty, which failed to respond to multiple requests for comment, sterilizes its modified salmon as well, but this process is not believed to be successful every time.
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