October 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

FDA approves 1st GM animal (fast-growing salmon) to eat

AquaAdvantage Salmon
GM Salmon?, FDA image

After a seemingly endless period of review, the FDA has approved the genetically modified (GM) AquaBounty salmon for sale and consumption. Update: You might find my interview with George Church on CRISPR and gene modification interesting.

I don’t see any particular reason to think that this GM fish as a food would pose any significant health risks to people. The fish’s hypothetical risk to the ecosystem is greatly reduced by restrictions on where it can be grown to areas away from natural waterways. Note that it cannot be grown anywhere in the US at present.

It’s also worth pointing out that the fish are sterile so even if by some weird fluke they ended up in the wild (e.g. some bozo intentionally set them “free” in a river feeding into the ocean), there would be a huge obstacle to them having negative environmental impact. Some rare GM fish that escaped both captivity and the sterility or some other unpredicted event would have to happen. Zero risk? No, but it seems very low. And for that matter, what exactly is zero risk? Certainly not unmodified foods that can cause allergies, etc.

The AquaBounty salmon, called AquaAdvantage, grow better than wild salmon due to a sustained period of growth hormone production via genetic modification. The FDA does not view the salmon as meaningfully different than wild fish in terms of safety or nutrition so no labeling will be required.

Will consumers eat it? Will we all eat enough of it to make a profit for the company and sustain the product? Time will tell.

Another key aspect to this story is that the corporate owner of AquaBounty is the genetic engineering company Intrexon (XON), which is also interested in human genetic modification.

A number of companies interested in both cloning and genetic modification are working (or have goals toward working) in both animals and humans. I’m not quite sure how to view that overlap. Concerning? Or a logical and productive synergism possible?

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