A genetically modified salmon which grows twice as fast as normal is completely safe for human consumption and poses little risk to the environment according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The regulatory body's verdict paves the way for GM animals to be produced commercially for food for the first time.
The creature, dubbed "Frankenfish" by critics, looks likely to be approved for human consumption later this month. Its developers, a Boston-based company called Aquabounty Technologies, say it could be on supermarket shelves within the next two years.
Scientists at the firm developed the patented AquAdvantage salmon by taking a normal Atlantic salmon, and giving it a growth hormone gene from faster-growing Pacific chinook salmon together with DNA from a voracious eel-like creature called an ocean pout.
The resulting creature requires 25 per cent less food and reaches market weight in 15 to 18 months, rather than the usual three years. Environmentalists are outraged. They claim the GM salmon will escape and interbreed with wild populations, and that eating the fish may prove to be dangerous for humans. But the FDA looks likely to authorise commercial production of AquAdvantage salmon. In research notes released over the weekend, the regulator said it can find no evidence that the salmon will endanger either the environment or people who eat it.
Meat from AquAdvantage fish "is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon [and] there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal," the FDA analysis concluded, adding that the risk of GM fish escaping into the wild is "extremely small."
AquaBounty plans to produce only sterile female salmon, to prevent interbreeding. But Wenonah Hauter, the executive director at Food and Water Watch, said: "It seems likely that there could be fertile salmon that are going to be put into commercial production".
The GM industry hopes the expected ruling in favour of AquAdvantage salmon will be the first step towards farmers being able to raise a full range of fast-growing, disease-resistant GM animals.