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Frankenfish -- genetically modified salmon -- take food and ecology to a new level

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears close to approving the 'frankenfish' salmon. That raises all sorts of questions.

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Today, the “frankenfish” – a genetically modified salmon. Tomorrow, a “frankenpig”?

Probably. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears likely to approve genetically altered Atlantic salmon for human consumption. The salmon’s added genes allow it to grow to market size in half the time of wild salmon. Meanwhile, in Canada, a pig is being engineered to produce less harmful phosphorus waste.

If the FDA approves of the fish, it will mark the first time a genetically manipulated animal would be allowed for human consumption in the United States.

There’s a lot to digest in that last sentence, including the moral aspects of changing the natural DNA of animals. Cloning is controversial enough; that science reproduces exact copies of animals. Genetic modification, or GM, goes a step further and changes the characteristics of a plant or animal.

Warnings about this “Frankenstein” trend fall generally into two categories: food safety and impact on the environment. In the case of the GM salmon, critics worry that the fish could include dangerous allergens. They also worry about the possibility of escape into the greater environment, where the GM salmon would compete with endangered wild salmon for food.

The FDA says there are no relevant differences in biology between GM salmon and the conventional kind for human consumption. In a meeting Monday, it said the GM fish shouldn’t cause any additional allergies and that there is little chance they could escape. But an FDA advisory panel cast some doubt on whether there was enough evidence to affirm both those conclusions with surety.

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