Rumor on the street is that there may soon be the first genetically engineered fish in supermarkets near you. Developed by AquaBounty Technologies, this GMO salmon grows to its potential in 16-18 months; just half the time of conventionally grown or wild salmon. The science behind this fast-growing fish breaks down to two different genes from two different fish being added to a wild salmon to over stimulate growth hormone and cut normal development time in half.
The FDA is charged with reviewing not only the safety of this new salmon for human consumption, but also its impact on the environment. The FDA also needs to confirm there would be minimal difference in the nutrition content of this genetically farmed fish. Unfortunately, because of a 2008 policy for the FDA to regulate genetically engineered animals in the same category as veterinary drugs, this application process can be kept confidential and typically there is no time allotted for public input.
Now, let's say the salmon does make it past the FDA (which many are predicting it will), then the next decision will be whether or not the salmon has to be labeled as genetically engineered. Mandatory labeling of GMO crops is often opposed when the only purpose is to show that genetic engineering was used. In other words, labeling of GMO foods is typically not required when foods are NOT shown to be different in their nutritional properties or other characteristics. AquaBounty recently submitted data to the FDA showing that its salmon was "indistinguishable from non-engineered Atlantic salmon in terms of taste, color, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins and other nutrients." This means there is a good chance if this new salmon passes the FDA, then it will land in grocery stores with little evidence of its genetically engineered upbringing.
Possibly the fishiest part about this genetically engineered fish is that they would all be female. They would also be grown sterile so reproduction could not occur.
Thinking positively about this scientific breakthrough, fish farming solves the food insecurity problem by making sure there are enough fish (and eventually other animals) to meet the population's needs. This fish also bypasses the risk of containing high amounts of mercury as in wild fish. For now, it's probably best to sit tight and let the FDA make its decision. Then, you can decide for yourself whether or not genetically engineered salmon makes the grocery list.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.