Over the past 15 years, genetically engineered plants have been grown on more than 2 billion acres, offering increased disease resistance, insect protection and a proven method of boosting food production.
Acknowledging formidable challenges in feeding a global population of 9 billion people by 2050, proponents claim genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, may be the only hope of avoiding widespread famine.
Critics, on the other hand, often refer to the products as "frankenfood," and cite numerous potential issues as reason to keep the technology out of the human food chain.
This week though, U.S. food safety officials heard from members of the aquacultural sector on the merits of genetically engineering the nation's third-most popular seafood.
Early this week, an advisory committee informed the Food and Drug Administration or FDA, that genetically engineered salmon, which grow twice as fast as fish in the wild, appear to be safe for human consumption. AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, originally filed an application for FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon in 1995. But the agency waited 13 years before considering the request.
Currently 80 percent of the corn, soybean and cotton acreage in the U.S. is sown with genetically modified or GMO seeds. If FDA approves the sale of GMO salmon, it would be the first genetically modified animal sold for human consumption.
To increase growth, AquaBounty Technologies spliced a hormone taken from a Chinook salmon. Genes from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout acts as an "on" switch, keeping the growth hormone active year round.
Critics fear that the GMO salmon COULD cause allergies in humans or decimate an already endangered wild salmon population. There are also concerns that FDA approval is based on too little data.
Officials at AquaBounty Technologies believe their product has come under more scrutiny than most foods, claiming genetically engineered salmon is perhaps the most studied fish in history. To protect wild salmon populations, the fish would be bred female and sterile. They also believe that GMO salmon production could help relieve fishing pressure on wild salmon populations.
FDA has stated the engineered salmon is essentially the same as Atlantic Salmon and there is reasonable certainty that no harm will come from consumption. If approved, AquaBounty Technologies estimates the fish could be found in grocery stores in two years.