Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved genetically engineered salmon as fit for human consumption. It was the first time that a transgenic animal had been cleared to be sold on the shelves of American supermarkets.
The so-called AquAdvantage salmon grows to market size at almost double the rate of non-engineered farm salmon.
“I am pleased the AquAdavantage salmon are approved," Bruce Whitelaw said, a professor of animal biotechnology from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, UK. "Now consumer and market activity will determine whether this fish is an economic success. In an environment where a greater number of people need more food, it’s necessary."
The decision could mean the birth of the genetically modified (GM) market.
But what are the benefits of transgenic animals? According to Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, author of the book "Transgenic Animal Technology," the most visible benefits are improvements possible for “the growth and performance of both animal and human health," he said. “There are significant opportunities to benefit society and food production around the globe.”
Ann Bruce, a specialist in food safety and animal genetics at the University of Edinburgh, said "the issues around transgenic animals are not just about risks. When it comes to applying biotechnology to animals, moral or ethical concerns become important."
However, not everyone has positively received the FDA’s decision. Dozens of social organizations, supermarket chains and millions of consumers have made public their concern about the arrival on the market of GM foods. Further outrage has been caused by the fact that these products do not have to be labeled in supermarkets as genetically engineered.
A survey by The Mellman Group, a U.S.-based research company, in December 2015 revealed that American voters say consumers should have the right to know if their food is genetically modified, with 89 percent in support of mandatory GMO labeling, while more than 60 grocery chains have made commitments to not sell fish dubbed “frankenfish”.
Organizations opposed to the sale and consumption of transgenic animals argue that such organisms may even endanger the health of humans who eat them.
“Research suggests transgenic fish may be even more susceptible to diseases than conventional farmed fish. Increased disease susceptibility could mean transgenic fish may then require more antibiotics. Human health could also be jeopardized as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and exposure to certain classes of antibiotics that may cause allergic reactions,” explains Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety.
Amid the debate about the possible benefits and risks of consuming genetically modified animals, the approval of the sale of AquAdvantage salmon represents a milestone in the history of this technology; but it does not imply that the consumption of these products will increase significantly in the near future.
Market growth will depend upon people’s readiness to accept that GM foods are safe. “Transgenic animals need to be able to provide a major human benefit in order to overcome concerns,” concludes Ann Bruce.
- By Daniel Casillas