Photo: AquAdvantage® Salmon in the background; a non-GMO Atlantic salmon of the same age in the foreground.
In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology we're attempting to do the same.
The United States' Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of public hearings to determine if it will approve AquaBounty Technologies' application for fish spawned from genetically engineered salmon eggs to be allowed for use as food. These "AquAdvantage® Salmon" grow into full-sized fish in half the time that it would take a regular salmon, and if approved, would become the first "transgenic" or genetically engineered animals to be approved for human consumption.
It's a deeply fraught issue for both fans and foes of the technology, but stripping politics and propriety aside, here's what "genetically modified" actually means in the context of fish farming.
Before now, genetic engineering has been used widely in agriculture to make crops resistant to pests and herbicides, in the development of microbes to produce pharmaceuticals for human and animal use, and in food to produce microorganisms used in baking, brewing and cheesemaking. While various organizations have been working to develop genetically modified animals, such as the University of Guelph's "Enviropig" - which more easily digests plant phosphorous, thus excreting less of it into the environment - AquAdvantage® Salmon would be the first to be approved by the FDA for use as food.
The fish's rapid growth will be boosted by the injection of a combination of a growth gene (GH-coding sequences) from the Pacific Chinook salmon and genetic material (the AFP gene) from the ocean pout - a large, eel-like fish - into the fertilized eggs of Atlantic salmon, making the recombined DNA present in cells throughout the body of the fish. The Chinook gene promotes the growth to market size, and the pout gene allows the fish to grow in the winter as well as the summer.
AquaBounty Technologies claims the resultant fish are reproductively sterile due to another genetic alteration - triploidy - that eliminates the possibility of interbreeding amongst themselves or with other native breeds, while maintaining protection over intellectual property. The company will only sell female eggs and raise the fish within contained, inland systems. However, despite these assurances, the FDA indicates that up to 5% of the eggs may indeed be fertile, and the company's claims in this regard are "potentially misleading."
This analysis is entirely new ground for the FDA, and their Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee is employing the regulations they would to evaluate veterinary pharmaceuticals, rather those used for than food safety. According to Section 5 of the group's overview of this engineered Atlantic salmon, "That rDNA construct meets the definition of a 'drug' under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" as "an article intended to alter the structure or function of the body of man or animal."
Previously - What does "sustainable seafood" mean?
Catch up on all of Eatocracy's GMO coverage.