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FDA names salmon the first genetically modified animal safe to eat

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The Food and Drug Administration has granted regulatory approval for genetically modified salmon, saying the "food from the fish is safe to eat." It's the first genetically modified animal to be approved for human consumption.

The fish in question is AquaAdvantage Salmon from AquaBounty Technologies. The company created its first batch of genetically modified fish in 1989 and sent over safety data to the FDA in 1995, according to The Wall Street Journal. AquaBounty introduces an artificial segment of recombinant DNA (rDNA) into the genetic makeup of Atlantic salmon. The rDNA contains a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon, which makes the Atlantic salmon grow much more rapidly than their non-genetically engineered counterparts. The fish reach market size in 16 to 18 months rather than the typical three years.

The fish reach market size in 16 to 18 months

The FDA is allowed to regulate genetically modified animals, because the artificial rDNA that is introduced is basically the same as giving the animal a drug. The agency conducted an extensive review of the scientific research on AquaAdvantage Salmon, determining the fish was safe to eat and that the introduction of the artificial rDNA is safe for the fish itself. The genetically modified salmon is also just as nutritious as other Atlantic salmon, and not biologically different, the FDA said.

There are some caveats to the approval. The salmon must be raised in two specialty land-based hatcheries in Canada or Panama. These facilities are equipped with multiple physical barriers and other redundancies to keep the genetically modified fish or their eggs from escaping and making their way to surrounding waters. The fish are also made sterile so that even if they were to escape, they wouldn't be able to breed with wild salmon.

Genetically modified organisms are a topic of intense debate these days, with many concerned over the safety of these foods for consumption. So far, research supports that GMOs currently on the market are safe and don't cause any noticeable health issues. Many consumers have supported a mandate of GMO labeling, which would require companies to indicate if their products contain genetically engineered foods. However, a recent bill passed by the US House of Representatives could deny states the right to create laws requiring GMO labeling.