It's been given the moniker "Frankenfish," and it could someday end up on your dinner plate.
If a company called Aqua Bounty Technologies has its way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve its application for genetically engineered salmon eggs that will grow into full-size salmon in half the time it takes regular salmon.
The FDA will hold public hearings on the genetically modified salmon starting next week. The agency will also review the safety and efficacy of the genetic modification.
The company says the eggs include a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that enables the fish to grow quickly. If the FDA approves the eggs, it will be the first time the agency has ever approved a transgenic animal to be used for food in the United States.
Aside from the additional gene, Aqua Bounty Technologies says its salmon are identical to Atlantic salmon.
"Their ability to grow faster does not impact the nutritional or biological make-up of the fish," the company said on its website.
In an earlier evaluation of Aqua Bounty Technologies' salmon eggs, the FDA found that they are safe for human consumption.
"[T]here is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the consumption of food from this animal," the agency's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee wrote in briefing documents.
The documents also say the reviewers found an adequate amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the salmon, and that nothing in the salmon could cause anyone to be more allergic to it than they would be to Atlantic salmon.
Critics Question Safety, FDA Review
Public interest groups, though, are not so sure, and have openly expressed concern over these fish. More than 30 organizations issued a statement urging the FDA to not approve the eggs.
"We don't know whether they really are safe," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The organization also said transgenic fish are also more susceptible to disease.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine said that all genetically engineered foods pose substantial health risks, including accelerated aging, infertility and immune system dysfunction.
Aqua Bounty Technologies defended its product.
"There is a lower likelihood for the introduction and spread of disease, and a corresponding reduction in the need for disease treatment. In addition ... genetically modified salmon do not contain toxins," the company said.
Concern Over Environmental Impact
Hanson also criticized the FDA, saying the genetically engineered eggs should never have made it past the initial review phase, and there have been insufficient safety data provided by the company.
"The studies are inadequate to make the kinds of conclusions the FDA makes," Hanson said.
In its briefing documents, however, the FDA says the company's evidence and methods are acceptable.
The 31 organizations opposed to the approval of the genetically engineered salmon eggs say farmed salmon are a threat to native populations.
"Each year millions of farmed salmon escape from open-water net pens, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems," they said in a statement. "We believe any approval of GE salmon would represent a serious threat to the survival of native salmon populations."
The FDA will also consider whether to include any special labels on the alert salmon to alert consumers of its modifications.