On November 2, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically modified food animal1 — an Atlantic salmon that grows twice as fast as natural salmon, thanks to the insertion of genes from Chinook salmon and eelpout (an eel-like fish).
As a result, they carry three copies of each chromosome instead of two. But that's not the only change. Their sex hormones will also undergo complicated manipulation to ensure they're all female.
They're also said to be sterile, as an added precaution should they manage to escape, but the sterilization process has been criticized as flawed, and not 100 percent guaranteed.2
Adding insult to recklessness, the FDA will not require any additional labeling identifying the genetically aberrant nature of this salmon. The news of the approval was shocking to many, considering the strong opposition to it, and undoubtedly resulted in more than a few exasperated facepalms.
Critics Have Long Raised Serious Questions About Human and Environmental Safety
The FDA claims there's "reasonable certainty of no harm" coming from eating Aquabounty's "Frankenfish." Even the Center for Science in the Public Interest3 (CSPI) has gone on record saying the genetically engineered (GE) salmon is safe to eat and will not harm the environment.
But on what, exactly, are these opinions based? As noted by Food Democracy Now!:
"... [A]pproval of AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon was done using only the company's own shoddy scientific studies, which were so poorly designed they wouldn't pass a 5th grade science fair.
For two of the studies submitted, AquaBounty used sample sizes so small that they have no scientific credibility, with only 12 fish tested for one study, while another study on possible allergic reactions in humans involved only six fish!"
They're far from alone in their critique. In a 2011 interview,4 Professor Anne Kapuscinski of Dartmouth College, an environmental scientist and scientific adviser to the government on transgenic organisms noted:
"My main concern was that the kind of data presented [by Aquabounty] had gaps, and the quality of the analysis of the data, especially the statistical analysis, was really quite a low bar...
I was concerned that there were some problems with small sample sizes, some problems with statistical analysis, and I was even more concerned that there were key parts missing from the risk assessment.
It seemed like the approach taken, the risk assessment, wasn't really up to speed with the state of the art risk assessment."