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Genetically Modified Salmon Safe to Eat, Says U.S.

The FDA's decision came after years of controversy over the fish, an Atlantic salmon injected with a gene from Pacific Chinook.

US regulators on Thursday approved a type of genetically-modified salmon as safe to eat, making it the first transgenic animal destined for American dinner tables.

The Food and Drug Administration's decision came after years of controversy over the fish, which is an Atlantic salmon injected with a gene from Pacific Chinook salmon to make it grow faster.

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The fish, called AquAdvantage Salmon, is made by AquaBounty Technologies in Massachusetts, and can reach adult size in 16 to 18 months instead of 30 months for normal Atlantic salmon.

"They have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat," said Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Regulators "determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-GE (genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon," the FDA said.

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"There are no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon."

AquAdvantage Salmon may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama.

The FDA approval does not allow AquAdvantage Salmon to be bred or raised in the United States.

Some consumer groups have opposed the fish, saying it could be dangerous to human health and may pose risks to other fish if it were to escape into the environment.

However, the FDA noted that the AquAdvantage salmon "are reproductively sterile so that even in the highly unlikely event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild."

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Those who sell the fish are not required to label it as genetically modified, because under US law, such additional labeling can only be required if there is a "material difference -- such as a different nutritional profile" between the genetically-modified product and its natural counterpart.

"In the case of the AquAdvantage Salmon, the FDA did not find any such differences," it said.

The FDA did release recommendations for those who wish to voluntarily label the salmon as genetically altered.

If consumers want to make sure they are not eating genetically altered salmon, they should purchase fish that is labeled "wild-caught," a spokeswoman for the agency told reporters.

The Consumers Union, which has long opposed the altered fish, said it was "deeply disappointed with the FDA's decision."

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The lack of mandatory labeling is a key problem, said Michael Hansen, senior scientist with the group.

"Consumers deserve to know what type of food they're buying -- and an overwhelming majority has told us that they want genetically modified food labeled in poll after poll," he said in a statement.

The approval was largely hailed by scientists, including Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who said the FDA decision was "long overdue."

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"AquaBounty has been attempting to get regulatory approval for the AquAdvantage salmon for almost two decades," said Van Eenennaam, who was a member of advisory committee that looked at the AquaBounty salmon for the FDA in 2010.

"Five years ago, FDA scientists determined that the food from AquAdvantage salmon was 'as safe as food from conventional salmon' and that the proposed physical, biological and genetic confinement of the fish in the highlands of Panama posed minimal environmental risk," she said.

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According to William Muir, a professor of genetics at Purdue University, the decision is a "huge win-win for the environment, consumers and the process."

"There is no credible evidence that these fish are a risk to either human health or the environment," Muir said.

"In contrast, the current practice of using wild-caught salmon as a food source is not sustainable. Our oceans are overfished."

Atlantic Halibut

April 25, 2012 -

Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.

Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.

Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.

Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."

Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.

Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."

Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.

Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."

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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.

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Gray Sole Gray sole, a flatfish bottom-dweller, has experienced heavy fishing pressure from domestic and international fleets over the last half-century, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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