What could possibly go wrong? GM fish set for supermarket shelves after U.S. watchdog rules "Frankenfish" is safe for environment

GM fish set for supermarket shelves after U.S. watchdog rules 'Frankenfish' is safe for environmentAquAdvantage salmon would be the first genetically altered animal approved for human consumption anywhere in the worldThey contain two extra genes from other fish that make them grow to full size twice as fast as natural salmonFDA draft ruling declares they are unlikely to damage the environment when grown according to proposed 'conditions of use'But opponents warn any GM fish that escape and interbreed with wild fish could undermine genetics of already-endangered Atlantic salmon

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14:29 GMT, 24 December 2012

Genetically modified salmon could soon be found on supermarket fish counters after the U.S. food safety watchdog ruled it posed no environmental risks, it emerged today.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it could find no valid scientific reasons to ban production of Atlantic salmon engineered with extra genes from two other fish species.

If it is now given final approval, the fish will be the first GM animal to hit supermarket shelves anywhere in the world – and in the U.S. they may not even be labelled as modified.

Growth spurt: The overwhelming size comparison of a genetically modified AquAdvantage Salmon compared to a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling in the foreground of the same age are seen

Growth spurt: The overwhelming size comparison of a genetically modified AquAdvantage Salmon, compared to a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling in the foreground of the same age, are seen

The FDA has already indicated the
AquAdvantage salmon was safe for human consumption, but published a
draft ruling on Friday declaring it unlikely to damage the environment.

Their two extra genes make the fish grow
twice as fast as normal Atlantic salmon and supporters say it could
make land-based fish farms much easier and cheaper to run.

But opponents of the 'Frankenfish'
technology warn it could escape and interbreed with wild fish,
undermining the genetics of the already-endangered Atlantic salmon –
known as the 'king of fishes'.

They also argue that commercial
production of the salmon could be beginning of concerted efforts to
concoct other GM animals for human consumption, raising concerns about
animal welfare and human health.

There are now few hurdles remaining
before the GM fish can be lawfully produced and sold in shops in the
U.S., which could put pressure on the UK and Europe to follow suit.

Several government and EU bodies would
have to review the technology before it could be approved in the UK,
but sucessive government chief scientists have already backed GM as a
concept for increasing food production.

So far, it is only consumer opposition
that has blocked the approval of GM foods in the UK, although some
products on supermarket shelves already contain GM ingredients and they
are regularly found in animal feed.

Restrictions: Some of the fish eggs are seen which are born all female and sterile, though AquaBounty says a small percentage may still be able to breed

Restrictions: Some of the fish eggs are seen which are born all female and sterile, though AquaBounty says a small percentage may still be able to breed

AquAdvantage salmon are all female,
possess three chromosomes instead of the usual two, and grow to market
size in 16 to 18 months instead of the usual 30 required for Atlantic
salmon.

AquaBounty Technologies, the company
behind the fish, claim the risk of interbreeding with wild salmon is low
because their fish are all sterile and grown in secure containers on
land-based fish farms.

The FDA's draft assessment, part of a
New Animal Drug Application (NADA), agrees with the company, ruling that
the possibility of the GM salmon escaping into rivers and the sea is
'extremely unlikely', The Independent reported.

The document concludes that the fish
'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.'

But anti-GM groups have raised
concerns about the report. Peter Riley of pressure group GM Freeze told
The Independent: '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 U.S., it it is properly labelled.'

The FDA will take comments from the
public for 60 days before making the report final. The agency said more
than two years ago that the fish appears to be safe to eat, but the
agency had taken no public action since then.

Executives for Massachusetts-based
Aquabounty speculated that the government was delaying action on their
application due to opposition from groups against genetically modified
food animals.

Method: The AquaAdvantage salmon, seen growing in their facility's tanks, has an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long

Method: The AquaAdvantage salmon, seen growing in their facility's tanks, has an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long

Experts view the release of the environmental report as the final step before approval.

AquaBounty has maintained that the
fish is safe and that there are several safeguards against environmental
problems. The fish would be bred female and sterile, though a very
small percentage might still be able to breed.

The AquaAdvantage salmon has an added
growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows the fish to
produce growth hormone all year long.

The engineers were able to keep the
hormone active by using another gene from an eel-like fish called an
ocean pout that acts like an 'on' switch for the hormone.

This means AquAdvantage salmon grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of the usual 30 required for Atlantic salmon, which produce the growth hormone for only part of the year.

It is still unclear whether the public
will have an appetite for the fish if it is approved, however it may
not matter since consumers may not even know if they are eating them.

According to U.S. guidelines, the fish
need not be labelled as genetically modified if the agency decides it
has the same material make-up as conventional salmon.

AquaBounty says that genetically
modified salmon have the same flavour, texture, colour and odour as the
conventional fish, and the FDA so far has not shown any signs of
disagreeing.

No change: AquaBounty says that genetically modified salmon have the same flavor, texture, color and odor as the conventional fish, and the FDA so far has not shown any signs of disagreeing

No change: AquaBounty says that genetically modified salmon have the same flavor, texture, color and odor as the conventional fish, and the FDA so far has not shown any signs of disagreeing

Wenonah Hauter, director of the
advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said forgoing labelling not only
ignores consumers' rights to know what they are eating, but 'is simply
bad for business, as many will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it
is genetically engineered.'

She urged members of Congress to block
the impending approval of the fish. Congressional opposition to the
engineered fish has so far been led by members of the Alaska delegation,
who see the modified salmon as a threat to the state's wild salmon
industry.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, for
Alaska, said on Friday she is working to convince fellow senators that
approval for the fish should be stopped.

'This is especially troubling as the
agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well
as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organisations,' she
said of the preliminary approval.