(NewsUSA) - After 18 years spent leaping over regulatory hurdles and sputtering in political gridlock, the first genetically modified animal intended for human consumption is one critical step closer to receiving federal approval.
Although consumers are wary of genetically modified food, and the White House reportedly ran unprecedented interference, independent biologists, geneticists and environmentalists -- including the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) appointed by the Food and Drug Administration to review the application -- found the enhanced salmon entirely safe.
The AquAdvantage salmon combines two key pieces of DNA from the Chinook salmon and a fish called the ocean pout with the Atlantic salmon. This allows the altered salmon to grow to market size in about half the time.
Some experts argue the Massachusetts company in question, AquaBounty Technologies, represents the very best about the use of biotechnology in food application, and what's become the very worst -- the regulatory holdup.
"We have to take advantage of every technology," says geneticist Dr. Mark Walton, who began the non-profit Feed the Real World after years as a biotechnology industry CEO due to his frustration with misrepresentations about food production. "The travesty is that the process has been subverted by commercial and political interests."
AquaBounty approached the FDA with its initial application 18 years ago. In 2010, the FDA and its advisory committee of experts had a final hearing to evaluate the data.
According to Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal biotechnology expert from VMAC, the fish went through the "an extensive federal regulatory review," which shows safety for consumption and has minimal environmental risk.
"The FDA and VMAC agreed the data presented showed no difference between this fish and a conventional Atlantic salmon with regard to food safety," said Van Eenennaam. "And the environmental concerns have been mitigated through the proposed conditions of use in land-based facilities with multiple redundant containment approaches to prevent release."
AquAdvantage salmon is sustainably farmed using land-based tank facilities with multiple containment measures. Although the FDA declared "no significant impact" in the environmental assessment, the application still sat in limbo. If there's no more political undermining, the FDA will review public feedback to the assessment released just last year.
"There's nothing in this fish that gives us any indication there's a problem to the food supply," says molecular geneticist and food safety expert Alan McHughen.