On November 19 2015, a genetically engineered animal was approved for human consumption for the first time by the US regulator. AquaBounty Technologies will now bring to market its AquAdvantage Salmon. Christened Frankenfish by those who disapprove or have a sense of humour, it could be in the shops within around two years.
Just what is it?
This new-fangled salmon grows twice as fast as the average, taking only 16 to 18 months, thanks to an added growth hormone that occurs in the Pacific Chinook salmon. In natural conditions, this hormone is produced for only part of the year, but thanks to another gene taken from an eel-like fish, the ocean pout, the hormone remains active all year round in the Frankenfish. Aquabounty also claims that 25 percent less feed, made from wild fish, is required and the carbon footprint is as much as 25 times less. The approval process took two decades. Shares in the company rose by 4.5 percent to $36.88.
Bernadette Dunham, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, declared that the agency had “determined that [Aquabounty] have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat.” There were, according to the agency, “no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.” AquaBounty echoed this, pronouncing the Frankenfish to have exactly the same colour, flavour, odour and texture as regular salmon. Some supermarkets, for example Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, have announced that they wouldn’t purvey genetically-modified salmon.
The FDA also issued guidelines determining whether food companies label their products as genetically engineered or absolutely not. These guidelines are voluntary. The FDA helpfully suggested that anybody determined to avoid genetically-modified fish could catch them themselves. Thanks, guys.
What a fuss
The use of genetically-modified plants and animals like the Frankenfish as food is deeply controversial. Consumer groups have advocated their labelling as they do not believe them to have been proven safe. Supporters meanwhile hold that these foods can reduce hunger by improving productivity, being, for instance, more resistant to disease. One consumer group, Food & Water Watch, reported that companies such as Dow Chemical Co, Monsanto Co and Syngenta AG produce genetically-modified seeds, from which spring apples that don’t go brown, extra-nutritious rice and pesticide-resistant soybeans.
A statement released by the consumer group, Consumers Union, read that folk should know what kind of food they were purchasing, as evidenced by “an overwhelming majority … in poll after poll.” Voluntary labelling, went the statement, “takes away the consumer’s ability to make a truly informed choice.”
In July, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would lead to the national regulation of genetically-engineered food, prohibiting labelling so long as the FDA had given the nod. The Senate is yet to consider the matter.
One problem avoided
The Frankenfish is raised in government-inspected tanks only at two locations, in Canada and Panama, limiting output. It can’t be bred or raised in the United States. One of the principal objections of critics is that genetically-modified salmon would decimate natural populations if released into the wild, and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican, ventilated that she was “spitting mad”; she also supports labelling. But these fish, which are all female, are sterile and so couldn’t breed even if they did escape. Another complaint is that human allergies could be triggered.
It’s a game-changer
In another statement, AquaBounty’s Chief Executive Officer, Ronald Stotish, called the Frankenfish an environmentally-responsible “game-changer.” Lisa Archer of Friends of the Earth, on the other hand, declaimed that there was “no place on our dinner plates for genetically engineered fish” because it was poorly-studied and unlabelled. The Center for Food Safety will sue the FDA to prevent approval. Stotish was of the opinion that education, requiring time, could cause naysayers to change their minds.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”