In an industry-defining decision, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a genetically engineered (GE) salmon brand—the first approval in the US for a genetically engineered animal intended for food—declaring the fish is as safe to eat as non-GE salmon.

Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies’ AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon reaches market size more quickly than non-GE, farm-raised Atlantic salmon. FDA regulates GE animals under the new animal drug provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, since the recombinant DNA (rDNA) construct introduced into an animal meets the definition of a drug. In this case, the rDNA construct introduces a trait that makes the salmon grow faster. However, it may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama; the approval does not allow the salmon to be bred or raised in the US.

“FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage salmon and determined the company has met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat,” explains Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The US currently imports more than 90 percent of all the seafood it consumes. Stotish says AquAdvantage salmon will offer the opportunity for an economically viable domestic aquaculture industry.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation applauded FDA’s approval. “The innovative biotechnology involved in genetically engineering salmon promises to bring healthy and affordable food within reach for countless consumers with lower environmental impact than traditional ocean-farmed salmon,” the foundation says. “These salmon will be grown in tanks on land, eliminating the potential spread of disease and parasites from farmed salmon to wild salmon stocks.”

On the other side, the activist group Friends of the Earth calls the salmon a “frankenfish” and says many consumers and large grocery chains are lining up to reject the product. “Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear there is no place in the US market for genetically engineered salmon,” says Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “People don’t want to eat it, and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.” The group claims some studies suggest GMO salmon may pose serious environmental and public health risks, including potentially irreversible damage to wild salmon populations.