AquaBounty Hoping to Serve DNA-Altered Salmon on US Plates

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Genetically Altered Salmon: Enter Eel

Then there is one more genetic alteration -- a growth switch from a sea eel also is inserted in the Atlantic salmon DNA because natural salmon normally only grow in summer. The eel grows all year round.

John Buchanan, the director of research and development for AquaBounty, has been working on the salmon for two decades and explained that the change allows the fish to start growing from birth.

"You get to market size at least 12 months before any other type of salmon out there," Buchanan said.

AquaBounty says the fish are ready for market and it now wants the FDA to give final approval of what it calls the AquaAdvantage salmon for American dinner plates.

Already 80 percent of U.S. corn, soybeans and sugar beets are genetically altered, but until now ... never meat.

"It opens up a whole other section of the grocery store, to a technology which we think is still not fully understood," said Patty Lovera, the assistant director of consumer rights group Food & Water Watch.

Sensitive to criticism that these fish could escape into the wild and wipe out natural salmon, AquaBounty is anxious to show what it says are 16 redundant safety nets to keep their fish inside.

"We've been operating this facility for more than 20 years and we've never lost a single fish," Stotish said.

Another safeguard, Stotish explains, is that these super-fish are sterile.

"These animals can't transmit their genetic information to generations. They're incapable of breeding and that's perhaps the most important part," he said.

That assures nothing can go wrong with this fish altered by science to grow and get to market faster, he said.

Critics Skeptical of AquaBounty Studies

"This fish is identical to traditional salmon in every measurable way," Stotish said.

Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union, said he thinks science has gone too far though.

"I wouldn't want to eat this fish, unless it's gone through a proper approval process," he said.

There is no proven link between genetically altered food and health problems, but critics are skeptical about AquaBounty studies and complain government scientists have not done enough independent work, and ignore the unknown.

They worry, but have no proof that this new fish will increase allergies, and they theorize its altered hormone system could somehow cause cancer. The FDA's review of company data found those concerns unfounded.

But Hansen remained skeptical.

"That kind of science wouldn't make it past a high school science fair," he said.

When ABC News asked AquaBounty whether eating its fish should be cause for concern or fear, the company argued that DNA is in everything a person eats.

"You eat DNA every time you swallow," Stotish said. "You consume DNA with every food that you eat."

But when pressed by ABC News about the difference in the fish's altered DNA, Stotish responded that the alteration comes from a nearly identical fish and if eaten will make consumers healthier.

"The gene that's responsible for the rapid growth comes from the Chinook salmon, a Pacific salmon, that protein is essentially identical to the same protein that's produced by Atlantic salmon," Stotish said. "You have healthier levels of Omega 3-fatty acids, you will be consuming a very lean source of protein."

ABC News was offered an opportunity to taste the DNA-altered salmon to see whether there is a difference in flavor or texture. None was noticed.

Currently, there are almost no commercial wild Atlantic salmon left in the world and virtually everything consumers purchase at the store is raised in ocean pens at salmon farms as far away as Chile or Norway.

AquaBounty argues its freshwater fish will be raised closer to big cities and be fresher and environmentally friendlier because there will be no need to ship them from overseas.

"Man has been altering the nature of animals since man walked upright and began domesticating animals," Stotish said. "The beef that we consume, the pork we consume today don't resemble their early ancestors at all."

If FDA approval doesn't come soon, AquaBounty says its 20-year investment will go belly-up -- which the company says will be a setback for its investors and for science.

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