Prepare for the endless debate over GMOs to get even more heated: The FDA has just declared genetically modified salmon fit for human consumption. This morning the agency announced its final approval of Atlantic salmon engineered to grow faster than conventional farmed salmon, reports The New York Times.
According to the FDA's report, "AquAdvantage salmon is as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious." While genetically modified fruits, vegetables, and grains are — like it or not — commonplace these days, this is the first genetically modified animal intended for human consumption to nab FDA approval.
But the biggest concern about the FDA's approval of AquAdvantage seems to stem from the labeling: As Consumerist notes, the FDA is leaving it "up to the sellers of these fish to voluntarily decide whether they choose to label their product as [genetically engineered]" or not.
The Washington Post points out that "Food-safety activists, environmental groups and the salmon fishing industry, not to mention lawmakers from Alaska, have long opposed the approval of the fish — which they derisively refer to as 'Frankenfish' — and have argued that its existence could open the door to a broad range of potentially unsafe genetically modified animal foods." Major grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have already pledged they will not sell the salmon.
Unsurprisingly, the FDA is already getting some major backlash from consumer watchdog groups. Food & Water Watch issued a statement decrying AquAdvantage's approval and noting that parent company AquaBounty has some unsavory history: "In recent years, AquaBounty facilities outside the United States have dealt with an accidental disease outbreak, an accident that lead to ‘lost’ salmon, and a $9,500 fine from Panamanian regulators who found the company in breach of that country’s environmental laws," the statement claims.
While many consumers are concerned about the safety of eating GMOs, encouraging big chains like Chipotle to eliminate them from their menus, 25 years' worth of scientific studies have shown zero evidence of harm to humans who consume GM crops. Many are also wary of the environmental impacts of such organisms, however, and the popular movement against GMOs continues to grow. At the very least, consumers probably ought to have the right to decide whether or not they wish to consume genetically modified foods — a choice that is eliminated when the FDA says companies like AquAdvantage need not label their products as such.