The meetings pitted consumer and environmental campaigners against AquaBounty, the Massachusetts-based company that has been working on bringing its AquAvantage salmon to the market for more than a decade. If approved, the salmon, which is said to reach full size in about half the time as its conventional counterparts, would be the first genetically modified (GM) animal marketed for human consumption. Some environmentalists and scientists have said they see it as a watershed case, with the result likely to either pave the way for further genetic engineering of food animals or discourage its use.
But the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) did not vote or make a recommendation at the end of the hearings, saying that it does not yet have sufficient data.
Among other issues, including debate on the potential for cross-contamination with conventional salmon, some panelists raised questions about possible allergenicity of the fish. But others argued that there was no difference between the GM salmon and conventional salmon.
In an interview with PBS, independent biotechnology consultant Val Giddings, who attended the hearings, said: “It is frustrating to hear activists raise this as a concern.”
He said that although those who are allergic to conventionally produced salmon should avoid eating GM salmon, “Most folks can eat this salmon being confident that they are no more likely to cause allergies to them than others, because there is nothing that has been added that would increase the allergenicity profile. There are no novel proteins with which we are unfamiliar. The issue of a potential allergy risk here is completely made up.”
It is as yet unclear how long it may take for the FDA to reach a conclusion on whether the salmon should be allowed on the market.
A second meeting is due to take place today to debate the legal issues about whether the fish should be labeled as genetically modified.
At the moment, foods produced through genetic modification are not required to be labeled as such in the United States, and the FDA’s position has been that labeling should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods”.