Craig Altier, associate professor at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, appears willing to accept the FDA's conclusions on the consumer safety of genetically engineered salmon. But he sides with environmental groups in warning about the high risk of uncertain consequences if a genetically modified organism is accidentally loosed on the environment. Altier says:
The fisheries of the world are being rapidly depleted and so advances in aquaculture will be needed to meet the growing demand for protein. Genetically engineered animals might help to feed the world, but they must first meet the most stringent requirements for human and environmental safety.
Is the introduced growth hormone gene safe for the fish itself? The studies designed to determine this were flawed, and so we don't know yet whether this is true. The burden of proof here is on the producer of this fish, Aquabounty, to perform further research to establish safety for the fish.
Is the fish safe for human consumption? Exhaustive analysis by the FDA showed no difference from conventional salmon. The growth hormone itself presents no specific risk, as we consume growth hormone in all meats we eat. The FDA also found no increase in allergens, which is important, as fish is already a food that causes allergic reactions in many people.
We advised the FDA on the possible environmental impacts of this fish. Containment of the fish is essential, as the release of this fast-growing animal could have devastating effects on native fish populations. The producer, AquaBounty, plans to raise these fish in an inland, self-contained facility. To protect wild fish stocks, these facilities would require the utmost security, rigorous inspections and constant oversight by the FDA.
We need to treat these fish as we would a potentially dangerous medicine or pharmaceutical, and apply all of the same security measures to its production and transport.
Food for thought as the FDA weighs the potential risks and benefits of any genetically modified products.