GM salmon approved in US – could it happen here?

Burgers created in a laboratory has been branded Frankenstein food, but they still appear some way from making it onto menus any time soon.

But what about fish genetically modified in a tank? Is the day when a GM fish sits on a restaurant dish so far away?

A 20-year struggle by US biotech company AquaBounty Technologies had finally paid dividends. Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US gave the green light for genetically modified salmon to enter the food chain, giving a clear indication that it is satisfied that this GM animals is safe to eat.

This raises a number of questions: is it really safe? Could it GM salmon be produced and sold here soon? How would consumers respond and how sustainable is it?

  1. Is it really safe?

Well it would appear as though there is a difference of opinion in the US. While the FDA has cleared the salmon for public consumption, the Centre for Food Safety said it was going to challenge the decision and sue the FDA saying the Agency had “neglected its responsibility to protect the public!.

  1. Could it happen here?

Not at the moment. The UK government does support GM technology and this year lobbied successfully for a deal that allows individual EU countries to decide for themselves whether they want to plant GM crops. It appears as though GM fish won’t be on our plates very soon. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council does not permit GM fish. It cites potential consequences for wild species, marine biodiversity and human health as the reasons for not allowing the raising of GM fish.

Dr Joe Perry, former Chair of the European Food Safety Authority GMO Panel, said that if an application were made to raise GM salmon in Europe the risk assessment “would require considerably more data”.

  1. How would consumers respond?

Americans don’t appear to have been queuing up to get the first taste of GM salmon. In fact the FDA’s decision has flown in the face of public opinion as 1.8 million people opposed the licence – including a number of chefs, restaurants and food companies. Since the FDA’s announcement, Costco, the huge retailer has said it will not sell the fish, neither will major restaurant group Red Lobster. Surveys in the US and the UK have consistently found the public against GM food. In a recent poll, seven out of ten US consumers said they are more likely to buy products labelled GM-free.

  1. How sustainable is it?

Dr Ronald Stotish CEO of AquaBounty, said: “AquAdvantage Salmon is a game-changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats.” The fish is a type of Atlantic salmon injected with a gene from a Pacific Chinook which makes it grow twice as fast as a ‘conventional’ salmon – one of the major claims put forward in the argument that GM food is sustainable. But this doesn’t take into account the possible impact on marine biodiversity and the potential impact on wild species.

So, there you have it. The first genetically engineered animal for food has been approved. It is likely only a matter of time before applications are made in Europe despite there being a limited public appetite. We shall keep you informed.

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