Are You Ready for GMO Surf-and-Turf?

The genetically modified salmon inches closer to the fish counter as new federal funding advances pig-gene research.

Where did you get those genes? (Photo: Maren Caruso/Getty Images)

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

In case you missed it, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration began clearing hurdles for the first genetically modified fish to hit the market just before Christmas. The agency released its draft environmental assessment that concluded the salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies, would have “no significant impact” on the environment, and was as safe for consumers to eat as traditional farmed-raised salmon.

There’s been considerable speculation over the GMO salmon since 2010, when it appeared to be on the fast-track to approval. But since then, the public has heard virtual crickets from the FDA, while rumors swirled that AquaBounty’s continued dire financial status might mean the company would capsize long before the fish hit supermarket ice.

While the move by the FDA makes it look like the path is now cleared for the fish, the assessment is still in draft form and is open for public comment until February 25. Environmentalists hope the public will chime in. 

“The public has one last chance before this fish ends up on their plates,” George Leonard, a scientist with Ocean Conservancy who testified before Congress on the GMO salmon, tells TakePart. “If you care about the future of your seafood, it’s do or die time.”

As of this morning, there were only 36 comments on the release, nearly all opposing the salmon, but likely not enough to sway the FDA.

Ironically, on the same day the FDA released the draft report in favor of the salmon, another federal agency was handing out grant money to genetically modify another animal: the pig.

Recombinetics, Inc., based in Minnesota, was awarded nearly $500,000 in funding through the USDA’s Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program. According to Sustainable Food News, the money will be used for “research in the ‘editing’ of the pig genome to develop genetically engineered lines of animals that either produce only females, or lines of pigs that fail to undergo sexual maturation.”

It’s hard to say what will come next, but we’re fairly confident the move toward genetic modification of fish and livestock will be on our radar throughout 2013.

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