Host: Americans have been eating genetically engineered corn and soybeans for years. Now, scientists are redoing fish. Farm-raised Atlantic salmon just might become the first genetically engineered animal to be eaten by people. This salmon's got a new gene that makes it grow to maturity in 18 months, rather than three years. The Food and Drug Administration will have to decide whether it thinks the salmon is safe to eat and safe for the environment.
The company says that its genetically engineered salmon contains the same nutrients, the same fatty acids and the same minerals as natural salmon. And it tastes the same, too.
But critics say that the FDA is moving too fast. It hasn't gathered enough information, and it's relied too heavily on small studies. Fish is one of the top five foods people are most allergic to. The small sample size for some tests makes it difficult to prove that the new product would not trigger a greater allergic reaction in people already sensitive to salmon.
Another contentious issue being debated is what will happen if these salmon escape from fish farms into the wild. AquaBounty says not to worry.
Ron Stotish (CEO): There is virtually no possibility of escape and interaction with wild populations.
The fish eggs will be sterile, he says, and all will be female. Plus, they'll grow them in tanks on land, not at sea.
Marine scientist Yonathan Zohar, of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, supports the approval of genetically engineered salmon. He says it's important to find ways of increasing production of farmed fish. Wild stocks of many fish, not just salmon, are becoming depleted. And there's more demand for fish than the sea alone can provide.
On another front, the FDA plans to hear from the public about whether genetically engineered salmon should be labeled for consumers. One person worried about that is Jeff Black, owner of the BlackSalt Fish Market and Restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Black: It should absolutely be labeled, and…and the public should be allowed to make their own decision. In the restaurant industry, we have what's called “truth in menu.” And “truth in menu” requires me to tell the truth about the things I'm serving.
The FDA said if the flesh of the genetically engineered salmon is essentially the same as the traditionally raised salmon, a new label is not required.