The future is here, ladies and gentlemen, and even though there are no flying cars or jetpacks, we can eat genetically engineered animals. The FDA just approved genetically engineered salmon for consumption, making it the first genetically engineered animal to get the seal of approval. Between that and the robot pets, I'm officially calling it: The future has arrived. Whether that's a good thing is, as ever, up for debate.
According to The New York Times, AquaBounty Technologies, a small company that developed a genetically modified salmon, first approached the Food and Drug Administration about approval in the 1990s. The salmon grow much faster than natural farm-raised salmon, which also makes them more profitable. Five years ago, the agency made an initial determination that the fish were both safe to eat and safe for the environment, and on Thursday, they approved the fish for sales to consumers.
The FDA says they took so long to approve the salmon because it was the first time that a genetically engineered animal would have earned such approval. Although many types of genetically modified plants are approved by the FDA for consumption, genetically modified animals have stayed off limits — until now, of course.
And, naturally, many people are not pleased, especially since AquaBounty will not have to label the salmon as genetically modified on consumer packaging.
“This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.
The FDA, however, says that the fish is safe to eat and safe for the environment. The biggest concern with the fish would be that one or more might escape from their enclosures and begin out-competing their natural, slower growing cousins, which could quickly lead to extinction for natural salmon. Or worse, they could interbreed with natural salmon, which could lead to any number of problems. Either scenario could have huge unseen consequences for ecosystems.
To solve that potentially catastrophic scenario, AquaBounty fish are only approved to be raised in species-specific isolation in a lake facility in the Panamanian mountains, a region far away from salmon's natural habitat — making it unlikely that, even if they escaped, they could ever encounter a wild salmon to breed with. And just to be extra sure, AquaBounty engineers their fish to be sterile.
Still, the FDA decision sets a precedent, and I've seen enough science fiction movies to be a little wary of what might be headed our way next. But in the mean time, it seems that the salmon is safe to eat and probably not going to destroy the world.
The future is safe — for now.