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Genetically Engineered Salmon: FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Engineered Salmon as the FDA Weighs Approval

Are Genetically Engineered Salmon Safe to Eat? continued...

Critics say more study is needed to see whether other salmon proteins are affected by the altered switch. But their main concern is over whether the increased growth hormones make the fish more likely to trigger allergies.

People allergic to fish generally avoid salmon anyway. But some critics say that if the genetically engineered salmon is more allergenic than other fish, it might provoke fish allergies in people who were not already allergic to fish.

In comments to the FDA panel, Consumer Union senior scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, was highly critical of the FDA's analysis of the allergy question.

"Because the FDA's assessment is inadequate, we are particularly concerned this salmon may pose an increased risk of severe, even life-threatening allergic reactions to sensitive individuals," Hansen said.

One of the outside experts on the FDA panel advising the FDA, Craig Altier, PhD, DVM, of Cornell University, says he's not worried about the allergy issue.

"Exhaustive analysis by the FDA showed no difference from conventional salmon," Altier noted in a news release. "The growth hormone itself presents no specific risk, as we consume growth hormone in all the meats we eat."

Is Genetically Engineered Salmon Safe for the Environment?

The theoretical problem with genetically engineered salmon is that some of them might escape and breed with wild salmon, polluting the wild salmon gene pool and threatening the species. There's also a threat that the fast-growing fish might become an invasive species, pushing native species out of their environmental niche.

The FDA analysis concludes that this is an extremely small risk:

  • Genetically engineered salmon are almost all sterile females.
  • Genetically engineered salmon, like other farmed salmon, have abnormalities that aren't a problem on a fish farm but which likely make the fish unlikely to thrive in the wild.
  • Because they grow so fast, genetically engineered salmon need high-energy feed that they cannot get in the wild, making it harder for them to thrive there.
  • Genetically engineered salmon are raised in inland tanks.
  • The waterways near AquAdvantage salmon farms are not hospitable to salmon.

But others -- including FDA advisory panelist Craig Altier, PhD, DVM, of Cornell University -- warns that escape of the fish into the wild could be an environmental disaster.

"The release of this fast-growing animal could have devastating effects on native fish populations," he warns. "To protect wild fish stocks, [facilities raising genetically engineered salmon] would require the utmost security, rigorous inspections, and constant oversight by the FDA."

If Genetically Engineered Salmon Is Approved, How Can I Tell It From Normal Farmed Salmon?

That's an open question. If the FDA determines that genetically engineered salmon is essentially identical to normal farmed salmon, it may lack the authority to require a special label.

However, a number of consumer groups strongly oppose the sale of genetically engineered salmon without specific labeling.

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