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.
• AVAAZ.ORG is currently collecting signatures on a petition calling for this salmon not to be approved by the FDA: