Superfish: DNA-Altered Salmon Coming to Your Dinner Plate?

ABC's Jim Avila goes to a secret freshwater fish farm in Panama where they alter fish genes.
3:00 | 12/04/12

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Transcript for Superfish: DNA-Altered Salmon Coming to Your Dinner Plate?
may soon land in america's supermarkets. It's a breed of fish created by humans, capable of growing up to three-times as fast as mother nature's model. Well, fda scientists say it's to eat. But would you take a bite? Abc's jim avila travelled to a secret location in central america for this "nightline" investigates. Reporter: Deep in the rain forest of panama, in a secret location, behind padlocked gates, barbed wire fences and a rick etted bridge, grows what may be the most debated food products of our times. Shades of "jurassic park" this is a fresh water farm, altering the genes, not of dinosaurs. But a new salt water fish, in the mountains, far from the sea. A salmon that would be the first genetically altered protein approved for the world to eat. Critics call them frankenfish. The idea of changing an animal farm is creepy. When you move the dna of a speshs into another species, you create a lifeform so new, you can get an patent for it. Reporter: Aqua bounty has kept it under wraps its fish farm location in panama, kept secret out of fear of sabotage. "Nightline" is the first to see up close and taste this mysterious fish fda scientists say is safe for americans to eat, but has yet to officially approve. Entry to both facilities begins with body suits and iodine baths for shoes, to keep the fish safe from our germs. How many times do outsiders come in to this facility? We've not given tours in this facility for more than four years. Reporter: Inside these productive tanks, america gets its first up-close look at the final product. The fish that has had the food police up in arms. When you look at these fish and hear the word frankenfish, what goes through your mind? It's infuriating. Reporter: The fish right there, is the second-most popular fish in america. Its big brother in the other hand, is the same age. But three-times larger. But it's the single gene change that makes the dna-altered salmon grow faster than a normal atlantic salmon. In reality, it's three fish in one. Aquabounty scientists have taken a growth gene from the chinook salmon and entered it into the dna of the atlantic salmon. Salmon, in their first two years of life grow slowly. Reporter: There's another alteration. A growth switch from a sea eel was inserted in the salmon dna. Natural salmon only grow in summer. The eel grows all year long. It grows from top speed to birth. Yep. You get the market size in 12 months before any salmon out there. Reporter: Aquabounty say the fish are ready for market. And wants the fda to approve the aqua-advantage salmon for american dinner plates. Already, 80% of our corn, soybeans and sugar beats are genetically altered. But until now, never meat. This technology, that we think is not fully understood. Reporter: Sensitive to criticism that these fish could escape into the wild and wipe out natural salmon, aquabounty is anxious to show safety nets to keep their fish inside. We've been operating this facility for more than 20 years. And we've never lost a fish. Reporter: And the superfish are sterile. These fish can't transmit their genetic information. Reporter: Despite the resemblance to dr. John hamman in "jurassic park." Don't you see the danger, john, inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the world's ever seen. Reporter: Ceo ron stotish, promises us there's nothing wrong with this science to get the fish to grow faster. Have we gone too far? I wouldn't want to eat this fish, unless it's gone through a proper approval process. Reporter: Critics say the fda scientists didn't do enough independent work and used company data to come to its safety conclusions. Some of which, tested only six fish. That kind of science wouldn't make it past a high school science fair. Reporter: Is this something i should be afraid of? You eat dna every time you swallow. You consume dna with every food you eat. The gene comes from the chinook salmon. That protein is identical t the same protein that's produced by the atlantic salmon. Reporter: And nothi going to happeo me or my children if they eat this fish? It will make you healthier. Man has been altering the nature of animals. The beef that we consume, the pork that we consume today, don't resemble their early ancestors at all. Reporter: If there is a difference, it's not in the flavor. Same texture. Eating frankenfish. Don't use that term. Reporter: Science fiction meets reality. Food created in a lab. And a small company based in canada, hoping the fda will ignore the obvious stereotype and allow it on american dinner plates. For "nightline," I'm jim avila in panama.

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