Genetically Engineered Salmon Nears FDA Approval

'Frankenfish' debate rages in final 60 days before FDA approval.

ByABC News
December 27, 2012, 5:50 PM

Dec. 28, 2012— -- Genetically engineered salmon could make its way onto plates in the new year, but your body won't notice anything fishy about the filet, experts say.

The Food and Drug Administration has determined genetically engineered salmon won't threaten the environment, clearing it of all but one final hurdle before it shows up on shelves throughout the nation -- and igniting a final 60-day debate on whether it poses health risks before it's officially approved.

Although it's been nicknamed "Frankenfish" by critics, health professionals say they aren't worried the lab-engineered salmon will cause more allergies or other harmful effects than any other breed of fish.

"The hard science part is that we have been creating [animals] using genes and natural selection for years to genetically predict what kinds of food animals, and recreational animals and such we have on our planet," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

He cited thoroughbred horses, show dogs and crops as examples of genetically engineered plants and animals dating back centuries.

"When Farmer Jones did it in his cornfield to try to get a better crop, it didn't bother people," Schaffner said. "When scientist Jones did the same thing in a much more sophisticated fashion in a lab, that does bother people."

A biotech company in Massachusetts called AquaBounty created the AquaAdvantage salmon, which is really an Atlantic salmon with an added Pacific salmon gene to make it grow faster and an added eel gene to make it grow year-round.

The end result is a fish that tastes like an Atlantic salmon but grows twice as fast, making it cheaper to produce and sell. Because the FDA likely won't require a label that says the salmon was genetically modified, consumers won't know the difference.

Click here to read about ABC News' exclusive look at the AquaBounty facility.

Schaffner thinks genetically engineered food is one way to help solve world hunger and, as long as the FDA thoroughly reviews it, there shouldn't be a problem.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said he's been disappointed with FDA decisions on genetically modified food since 1992, when the FDA determined it is equivalent to any other food. He said there's not enough science to allow AquaAdvantage onto our dinner plates, but the biotech industry has had so much influence in Congress that it's been impossible to stop.

"Now this latest action by the FDA somehow determined that the salmon is safe -- safe for who?" he asked. "Safe for the investors?"

Kucinich has introduced legislation related to genetically modified food and labeling in every Congress since 1997, but it has never passed. He said Monsanto, the $2 billion company that produces genetically modified seed and pesticides, is partially to blame because it has so much money and influence.

AquaBounty, the biotech firm that makes AquaAdvantage, contributed less than $150,000 toward lobbying Congress over the last three years, according to campaign finance records available on In contrast, Monsanto spent more than $19 million lobbying over the same time frame.

Kucinich said the AquaAdvantage issue is a complex one, and worries about whether the genetically altered fish will hurt naturally occurring wild fish populations by overfeeding because they grow twice as fast as their naturally occurring relatives. However, the most recent FDA finding showed that this is not a concern because the fish are mostly sterile and not expected to escape their man-made farms.