If it swims like a salmon, tastes like a salmon and looks like a salmon, is it salmon?
Genetically engineered Atlantic salmon has sparked controversy, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hold two public meetings this week. The meetings aim to provide information on the topic, expert opinions and a chance for the public to make comments.
AquaBounty Technologies' AquAdvantage Salmon would be the first genetically modified animal to appear in restaurants and grocery stores.
Currently, 50 percent of the salmon we eat worldwide is farmed Atlantic salmon, grown from eggs in large containment pools rather than the open ocean. The current production of farmed Atlantic salmon exceeds 2 billion pounds, according to the United Nation's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
Those both for and against the fish are speaking up.
"This fish is a healthy fish, it's safe to eat, and it's produced with a dramatically reduced carbon footprint," said Dr. Val Giddings, an independent scientist and consultant who formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has worked with AquaBounty.
AquAdvantage Salmon will not come in contact with wild salmon, something opponents are citing as a concern, added Giddings.
It is thought that such a thing could be harmful to wild fish : that the genetically engineered fish will dominate in the competition for already scarce resources.
"This fish is not going to threaten wild salmon populations for a number of reasons," Giddings said. "It would have to grow lungs, legs, and develop the ability to pick locks."
Dr. Margaret Mellon, director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists , said she's not so sure.
"I think that's a very cavalier approach," she said, noting that the FDA has avoided considering the possibility that the fish might get out. "It's very true that these facilities do have much more rigorous containment … but there is such a thing as human error, and when you're relying on these facilities and mechanical equipment, you have a right to think that containment will be good but won't be absolute zero."
Mellon said it's not that she's against genetically engineered food; she thinks the FDA has not prepared thoroughly enough to tackle this monumental decision.
"The way they evaluate drugs – it's not good enough for controversial food," Mellon said. "You really need much more transparency."
The FDA posted a 172-page report online this month, summarizing its process for determining the safety of AquAdvantage Salmon. This includes everything from an environmental analysis to food and feed safety.
"If you really care about getting a thoughtful analysis, you'd give months to read that many pages," Mellon said.
She said that the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee , which will address the science-based issues associated with AquAdvantage Salmon, is mostly made up of the committee the FDA uses to evaluate veterinary pharmaceuticals, not food safety.
"It should have many people that are fishery scientists and real experts in food safety," Mellon said. "Instead, we have people who are being asked to step out of their field and do the best they can."
Giddings said he simply wants the FDA to make a definitive decision based on the scientific data, which Mellon says there's not enough of.
"Our organization does not object to genetically engineered foods," she said, "but we do insist that the approvals be backed up by rigorous science."
Catch up on all of Eatocracy's GMO coverage and watch the live feed of the FDA hearing on GMO salmon.
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