Though most Americans remain wary of genetically modified (GM) foods, U.S. regulators may soon approve a GM fish product known as the AquAdvantage salmon — or “Frankenfish” by critics.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said on Thursday the agency was still reviewing as many as 35,000 comments from members of the public on the genetically altered salmon, proposed by Boston-based AquaBounty Technologies Inc. "We will be moving forward in a deliberate, science-driven way, reflecting all of the important inputs... as we consider this product application," Hamburg told the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during a hearing about the application, according to Reuters.
AquaBounty first applied for FDA approval for the product in the mid-1990s and had expected a final decision by the end of last year, according to past statements from company executives. The company says the fish is safe to eat and has been altered only to ensure quicker growth time, which may help replenish fish stocks worldwide.
However, critics of GM foods in general say science knows nothing of possible long-term harms from releasing altered organisms into the wild. Others say they’re merely asking the government to require labeling of GM products, which include many fruits and vegetables found throughout the cornucopia of today’s grocery store. Representing Alaska’s fishing industry and lovers of wild-caught salmon everywhere, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed concern about the product’s safety — and said GM foods should carry labels.
"I don't believe that the FDA has adequately studied the environmental effects, the economic impacts... let alone the potential health impacts on humans," Murkowski told FDA officials at the hearing.
As regulators consider genetically altered fish, the vast majority of Americans — on and off the “grid” — are already eating fruits and vegetables grown from modified DNA. Some 60 to 70 percent of foods on grocery store shelves contain GM foods, with products such as cornstarch and soy protein derived mostly from altered crops, says Bill Freese, of the Center for Food Safety.
Yet nearly two-thirds of Americans told ABC News pollsters last year they were concerned about the safety of GM foods, while more than half — 52 percent — believed the products to be unsafe, with another 13 percent unsure.