Ready to eat: the first GM fish for the dinner table

US decision after 17-year battle over fast-growing salmon could pave way for same step in Britain

A GM salmon which grows twice as fast as ordinary fish could become the first genetically-modified animal in the world to be declared officially safe to eat, after America's powerful food-safety watchdog ruled it posed no major health or environmental risks.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it could not find any valid scientific reasons to ban the production of GM Atlantic salmon engineered with extra genes from two other fish species – a decision that could soon lead to its commercial production.

The verdict clears one of the last remaining hurdles for GM salmon to be lawfully sold and eaten in the US and will put pressure on salmon producers in Britain and Europe to follow suit.

Successive chief scientists to the UK Government, as well as science institutions such as the Royal Society, have endorsed the concept of GM technology as a tool for increasing food production in the 21st Century, but consumer opposition has so far blocked the approval of GM food for the dinner table.

Several government bodies including the advisory committees on the release of GM organisms and on novel foods and processes would have to review the technology before it was approved in the UK.

Supporters of the technology believe the GM salmon will make it not only easier and cheaper to produce farmed salmon, but that it could also be better for the environment because they can be grown on land-based fish farms.

Sir John Beddington, the current chief scientist, warned two years ago of a "perfect storm" of growing human numbers, climate change and food shortages, where it would be "very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM".

GM opponents, however, argue that the introduction of the fast-growing salmon creates risks for both human health and the environment. They also argue that the salmon will be the start of concerted efforts to create other GM animals for human consumption, which could raise serious questions about animal welfare.

The FDA had already indicated the salmon was fit for human consumption. But in a draft environmental assessment written in May and published on Friday following inquiries by The Independent, it goes further by declaring that the production of the GM fish is unlikely to have any detrimental impact on the wider environment.

Opponents of the GM salmon – which some have dubbed the "Frankenfish" – have argued it could escape into the wild, interbreed with wild fish and undermine the genetics of the endangered Atlantic salmon, the "king of fishes" grown on fish farms in the UK.

However, the company behind the GM AquAdvantage salmon emphasised that the genetically engineered fish will be only be grown as sterile females and kept in secure containers on land.

In its draft assessment prepared as part of a New Animal Drug Application (NADA), the FDA agrees that the possibility of GM salmon escaping from fish farms is extremely remote and that interbreeding with wild salmon is equally unlikely.

The possibility of the GM salmon escaping into rivers and the sea from land-based fish farms is "extremely remote", the FDA said.

"[The] FDA has made the preliminary determination it is reasonable to believe that approval of the AquAdvantage salmon NADA will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States (including populations of endangered Atlantic salmon) when produced and grown under the conditions of use for the proposed action," it concludes.

Anti-GM groups last night raised concerns about the report. Peter Riley, of the pressure group GM Freeze, said: "The sterility system does not guarantee that there will be no escapes into the wild and some of them will be fully fertile. It's also debatable whether anyone wants to buy GM salmon, even in the US, if it is properly labelled."

The FDA also states the two other US Government agencies responsible for overseeing laws on endangered species – the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service – have agreed with the FDA's assessment that there will be "no effect" on wild Atlantic salmon or its habitat.

In its report, the FDA warns that if final approval is not given by the US Government, other countries may still develop GM Atlantic salmon.

The research into the GM salmon goes back to the late 1980s and it has gone through 17 years of bureaucratic wrangling over whether it should be approved for human consumption. The FDA indicated in 2010 that it would declare the GM salmon safe to eat but the issue was then kicked into the Washington long grass, which some have put down to nervousness on the part of the White House in the run-up to this year's Presidential election.

AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts biotechnology company that developed the GM salmon, has become increasingly irritated by the delays to its application, which have caused severe strains on its finances.

Last September, the company's chief executive, Ron Stotish, expressed his anger with the FDA, which promised in May this year that it would soon publish its environmental assessment, on which the approval of the application rests.

"We are frustrated and disappointed in the delay, and we feel the FDA and US administration have a responsibility to inform us why they have not yet released the environmental assessment and moved forward our application," Mr Stotish said.

A spokeswoman for the FDA said: "The draft environmental assessment is an interim step in the overall evaluation of the application and is not a decision on the application itself."

Animal farm: a technological revolution

1972: Scientists use special enzymes to snip fragments of DNA – genes – from one microbe and insert or "recombine" them into another microbe. The revolution in recombinant DNA begins with the creation of the first GM organism.

1980: Laboratory mice with genes inserted from other individuals become the first genetically modified "transgenic" animals. Dozens of other experimental species, from pigs and chickens to frogs and fish, follow over the next two decades.

1989: The AquAdvantage founder salmon is created by micro-injecting a fragment of DNA from an ocean pout fish and a Chinook Pacific salmon into a fertilised Atlantic salmon egg.

1995: AquaBounty Technologies begins the lengthy process of applying for official US Government approval to develop the AquAdvantage salmon commercially.

2002: The first commercially viable GM animal is created from two species by Nexia Biotechnologies in rural Quebec. The "spider-goat" has a single gene from a golden orb-weaving spider which means its milk contains spiders silk, five times the strength of steel, which is used for making bullet proof vests.

2009: The US Food and Drug Administration issues its final guidance to the GM industry on rules governing the regulation of genetically engineered animals, which clarifies its status as the chief statutory and regulatory body for GM animals.

2011: British scientists create chickens which don't spread bird flu by inserting an artificial gene that introduces a small part of the flu virus into the bird. This gives them the virus, but prevents them from spreading it.

2012: A genetically modified cow in New Zealand is the first to produce milk with no Beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), the protein that is thought to be responsible for allergic reactions. Meanwhile, Chinese scientists create a GM cow whose milk includes omega-3 fats, normally found in fish.

May 2012: The US Food and Drug Administration completes its environmental assessment of the GM salmon but delays publication of the draft report until 21 December 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
life
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower