The Food and Drug Administration recently cleared the way for genetically engineered (GE) salmon to come to market in the United States. Dubbed “AquaAdvantage” and engineered by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, the GE salmon is produced by inserting a growth hormone gene from Chinook (king) salmon into Atlantic salmon. The resulting fish grow twice as fast as normal Atlantic salmon—putting added stress on their bodies. The FDA has documented high levels of skeletal deformities and elevated mortality in GE fish, but pushed ahead anyway with regulatory approval in 2015.
Congress slowed the process in 2016 when it directed the FDA not to allow GE salmon into commerce until labeling guidelines could be issued for bioengineered food. This hurdle was cleared in December 2018, when the USDA unveiled its National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard—requiring food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers to disclose whether foods are bioengineered. Consequently, in March, the FDA lifted the “import alert” that had prevented AquaBounty from bringing its salmon eggs into the country to raise and produce salmon for market.
AquaAdvantage salmon will thus become the first GE animal approved for food in the United States. GE animals remain banned in the European Union and nearly all other countries worldwide. In the United States, the future of GE food animals likely will be decided in the marketplace—provided the disclosure standard results in adequate notice for consumers wishing to avoid genetically engineered animal products.