FDA Completes Review of First Genetically Modified Animal for Consumption

By Veronique Greenwood | October 11, 2011 4:12 pm

The AquAdvantage salmon.

When most people say “genetically modified organism,” they usually mean a plant—corn, perhaps, or an eggplant. But that may soon change. The FDA has completed its analysis of the first genetically modified animal likely to hit supermarket shelves: the AquAdvantage salmon, made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. Thanks to some added genes, the salmon grows 2-6 times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon in half the time, promising some respite for the planet’s heavily taxed natural fish stocks, a third of which are near extinction or exhaustion. Talking Points Memo’s IdeaLab reports that a source close to the review process says that the FDA’s environmental impact statement, which looks at what effect the salmon will have on the environment and seems to be favorable, has been passed on to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

As always with genetically modified organisms, there are questions about how the salmon’s manufacturers plan to keep its genes from getting loose in the environment. AquaBounty has developed a way to make the fish sterile, which would make spreading their genes quite tricky. At the moment, however, it only works on 98% of the salmon. Additionally, the company is only seeking approval for growing the fish in large, land-locked tanks with double-thick walls. While giant nets teeming with fish in the middle of the ocean are a sight more commonly associated with aquaculture, inland tanks make the risk of modified fish escaping much smaller.

One hopes that if the fish is approved, though, the companies building the tanks make sure to avoid floodplains. Read more at IdeaLab.

Image courtesy of AquaBounty

  • Doug

    Thanks FDA! You’ve always had our backs.

  • http://sidudoexisto.blogspot.com Jorge Laris

    Good news, I’m willing to find one of does in my next fish-dish

  • Nicole

    How is the salmon the first genetically modified animal? Pigs have been tweaked to make the pork less fattening. The pigs have weakened immune systems and subsequently grown in similar “tanks,” abliet above ground, for several years now. They continue to be tweaked to get that “perfect porkchop.”

  • Geack

    Do they actually get 6x the size of a normal salmon? That’s one big hunk of fish.

  • SilenceIsGolden

    Shouldn’t the FDA also look into the question what impact — if any — these new frankenfish will have on the people eating them?

    There have been so many claims that GM plants wouldn’t have any negative effect on people, and yet, it turns out, they do after all, some even to such an extent, that they get pulled off the market. Wouldn’t it be better to make sure of that BEFORE there’s a need to pull anything, once it might be too late?

  • megan

    How much more resources will go into feeding and stocking this fish not unlike the oversized demand for corn and grain to feed livestock like cattle and hogs then people. Are they going to use the environmental recycing waste for fish food style already researched for poor inland villages? Or ship tons of processed feed making resource demands just as high but small dent on overall ocean life eco system depletion by humans.

  • John Kwok

    @ SilenceIsGolden –

    The only “impact” that these “frankenfish” will have with regards to their consumption as food is zero, even if they are eaten raw as part of sushi. Human digestive juices are sufficient to digest all the genetically-modified organs, muscles, proteins, fats, etc. The only potential concerns I can envision would be with respect to which chemicals that might introduce either as vitamin dietary supplements or as something analogous to steroids to promote faster growth in these fish stocks.

  • Jim Bagnall

    @john Kwok

    no steroids/supplements either. Standard aquaculture fish food, which, in regards to megan’s comment, has been moving away from fish meal and toward vegetable and soy meal.

  • Mitch

    If these 2 to 6 times larger fish make their way into the wild who do you suppose will win the battle for food? The modified fish or the natural salmon? What happens when they breed with the natural salmon?

    We have already seen GMO soy and corn crossbred with natural strains. No one knows for sure whether it’s harmless as Monsanto would have us all believe. We should be working on growing protein in a test tube versus creating new species of animals.

    The stated goal to save the dwindling population of fish could backfire as these superfish compete for resources with natural salmon eventually overcrowding the salmon ecosytem and pushing natural salmon to even greater scarcity. Could even crowd out other speciaes of fish. A 6X salmon might compete with larger Tuna and Halibut …..

  • Jim Bagnall

    Studies say the natural fish should win, given that the modified fish are genetically less fit.

  • John Kwok

    @ Jim Bagnall –

    Thanks for your comments with regards to steroids, dietary supplements and the potential survival of this genetically modified breed of salmon in the wild. We’ve dined on genetically modified plants and animals for at least two decades now, with no notable deleterious effects, so any fears about feasting on this new “frankenfish” should be regarded as those unsubstantiated by sound scientific and medical research; such fears are quite groundless and are based on ill-informed knowledge of genetically modified domesticated plants and animals. I, myself, wouldn’t hesitate having sushi or a grilled steak from the meat of this “frankenfish”.

  • Cathy

    I’ll eat it.

    FDA, can I sign up for some all you can eat sushi trials?

  • Eric

    Im sure that “grows 2-6 times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon in half the time”
    means that in 1 week it is 2-6 times the size of what a normal salmon would be at 2 weeks maturity. the end resulting mature salmon being the same size of a normal mature salmon – it just got there A LOT faster.

    just a hunch, i dont claim to be right or have any supporting material to back it up.

  • Ray

    Grows 2-6 times the size means that this fish has had it’s growth hormone genes repeated 2-6x.
    Do our digestive systems destroy this growth hormone or do we absorb it?

    GMO foods are always advertised as wonderful things that will put an end to world hunger, things that would have ingrown vitamins and so forth, and yet, the industry doesn’t actually produce those.

    As far as we can tell the food industry produces foods that are less nutritious, foods that are artificially ripened in transit via ethylene gas and not fertilized in rich soil, but rather with nitrogen, so they’re the exact opposite of what they claim to be.

    Instead GMO producers create things that last longer on shelves, contain more sugar (as if we needed to consume any more), have terminator genes, or contain genes from bacteria to produce toxins, so they can’t be replanted, or are resistant to the use of tons of pesticide – so that they can sell both more pesticide and more seeds.

    And there are papers that indicate that some GMOs, such as soy, cause sterility.
    There are stories of farmers who have switched to GMOs that have committed suicide when their crops failed and they couldn’t pay for the seeds.

    The FDA, a government agency, needs to protect the interests of the consumer, not those of the corporations, and it needs to stop hiring those who worked in the corporations as its executives. It also needs to do independent tests of every product, instead of allowing the foxes to guard the chickens.

    The history of these things speak for themselves. Thanks, but I’ll not be eating this fish, it sounds like more of the same. And that isn’t progress, it’s greed.

  • data

    It always helps to have unbiased information, so I’ll try my best to provide it here:

    The aquabounty fish is a regular salmon that has a gene inserted into its genome from another fish. This gene creates growth hormone year-round rather than seasonally, which allows the fish to grow year-round rather than seasonally. The end-result is that the fish reaches normal adult size much more quickly than it would without the gene added (about half the time). The author of this article was incorrect when he/she said it grows 2-6x the size in half the time . . . the fish is no larger than any other adult fish, it just gets normal size much more quickly.

    The affects of the addition of this gene have been analyzed from many different aspects, and from my best estimate the only negative finding is that some of the fish have a minor defect in the jawbone, and some have something they call focal inflammation (neither of which seem to have any adverse affects on the fish). These fish require ~10% less food to grow, can be raised in aquaculture (unlike wild salmon), and (for those fearing escape into the wild), are rendered sterile (99.9% of the treated population). Yes, I can understand the “yuck” factor when considering eating a “modified” fish . . .but please recognize it for what it is . . .an irrational fear; these fish pose very little risk and quite a bit of benefit. If you can’t get over the irrational “yuck factor”, don’t eat it . . . but please stop trying to halt progress in bettering our food technologies. I for one would be the first to line up to eat one of these fish.

    By the way Cathy . . . consuming ANY sushi is much more dangerous than consuming one of these fish cooked. The foreign DNA in Aquavantage pose no risk; the bacteria and parasites known to contaminate a high percentage of fish destined for sushi pose a very real danger to those who consume it. Show me one single case of a negative consequence from consuming DNA . . . . you cannot, because it is not dangerous (and, for those of you who may not know it . . . every single piece of food you consume is packed full of DNA . . . all of which contains thousands of random mutations that occur naturally). So, no sushi for me, but please do serve me up some Aquavantage salmon!!!

  • Michelle Walters

    I’m concerned about prions; abnormally folded proteins that are found to cause mad cow disease, TSE, etc… These are not destroyed by digestive enzymes or cooking. Genetic tampering can directly affect these proteins. So far the prions are found in nervous tissue. Could we eventually be manufacturing prions that live in muscle, our favorite part of the animal?

  • John Kwok

    @ Michelle –

    Prions have been found only in domesticated livestock (mammals) and their feed (which has included some ground-up organic matter from the corpses of these animals). I don’t think those involved in aquaculture of this new genetically-modified strain of salmon would introduce such feed or could given the substantially different dietary requirements between the livestock in question and salmon.

  • Sharon

    “Thanks to some added genes, the salmon grows 2-6 times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon in half the time…” Must be an eating machine. If it gets loose in the wild, what will happen to its food supply? Would its food supply be able to hold up under the increased pressure, or would it collapse and create a cascading collapse through all the fish that depend on that food supply?

  • scribbler

    Anyone who thinks these things are safe are not looking at all the possibilities or the realities: You don’t know! Pieces of the DNA and RNA of what we eat “swims” in our blood stream and changes our DNA and RNA on a regular basis. No one knows the effects of changing this “soup” on our blood and it is fool hardy to think anyone knows enough to even guess, let alone assure us that there is no possible danger.

    These will get out. All the others have. Statistically, 99.99% means that one in 10,000 will pass this modification on. That’s 100 out of a million fish. With millions and millions and millions of these beasties in line to be produced, the chances are good that this will “escape” like all the other mods have already.

    This is not a good thing…

  • Gil


    While it is possible that these fish might escape in the future, your other assertion that DNA from items we eat regularly alters our own DNA is patently absurd and false…

  • ganesh

    While I do not agree that food organisms (whether plant or animal) should be modified to such a high degree or that we should depend on high-tech solutions to solve food security problems, I would like to say that animals and especially plants have a bewildering array of chemical substances in them. We use many of these compounds for metabolic purposes, but even more of them are toxic to some degree. Even such commonly consumed foods as coffe, tea and spinach contain chemicals that are both harmful as well as beneficial. The body has mechanisms for dealing with these toxins that have been honed for millions of years as we and our diet have adapted to changes in our environments. The chemical interactions between our diets and bodies have in a very real sense directed our evolution. Think about lactose tolerance or food allergies. You know, food allergies probably were a lot less prevalent not long ago (and probably still are uncommon in areas of the world with poor healthcare).
    The point, however, is that we shouldn’t necessarily get worked up over one more addition to an already highly technologized diet. Even eating a purely organic vegan diet will not prevent exposure to toxins. The best we can hope to do is provide enough to feed the world’s population without ruining the planet at the same time. For those of us who don’t have to worry about where our next meal will come from, we can only try to make informed decisions about our total consumption.

  • John Kwok

    @ scribbler –

    Gil is absolutely right in criticizing your absurd contention that DNA from those organisms we eat will affect ours. Yours is the type of reasoning I see all too often from global warming, evolution and vaccination denialists.

  • John Kwok

    @ scribbler –

    Your reliance on probability is as absurd as creationists’ – including Intelligent Design advocates – gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of basic probability theory and statistics. Even if your contention was true, the very risk you cite is quite minimal to say the least.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar