- GM salmon which grow twice as fast as wild fish have been developed
- Eggs given go-ahead in Canada while meat to be approved for sale in US
- If they escape from farms they could breed and wipe out wild fish
- Imported canned products could be in the UK within years
PUBLISHED: 18:15 EST, 2 December 2013 | UPDATED: 18:15 EST, 2 December 2013
As they splash around in their tanks, they look like any other healthy Atlantic salmon. Their eyes are bright, their skin is gloriously silvery and their fully grown bodies exude power.
It’s only when you look closely at their hatching dates that the alarm bells start to ring. A normal Atlantic salmon takes 30 months to grow to maturity . . . this variety took just 16.
The majestic specimens are ‘frankenfish’ — genetically modified salmon created in a secretive research base in the Panama rainforest.
‘Frankenfish’ are genetically modified salmon created by company AquaBounty which grow at twice the rate of wild Atlantic Salmon, and are constantly hungry (file picture)
The salmon have been given genes from two other species of fish to make them grow twice as fast as normal. And while most people would baulk at the prospect, GM fish could soon be coming to a dinner table near you.
Last week, Canadian authorities gave approval for the commercial production of GM salmon eggs for the first time, while U.S. food regulators are in the final stages of approving the fish for sale in supermarkets and restaurants.
And where GM salmon lead, other animals will follow. Plans are in place to genetically modify up to 50 other species, including trout and the tropical white fish tilapia, for human consumption.
GM chickens, cattle, sheep and pigs won’t be far behind.
The prospect of the first commercially produced GM livestock has, not surprisingly, raised concerns. Even those who support GM crop production believe the risks involved in GM animals are simply too great.
So what is so dangerous about these innocuous-looking fish? And could they be served in the UK soon?
GM salmon are the creation of AquaBounty, a biotechnology company based in Massachusetts and listed on the London Stock Market.
The firm has owned the rights to produce GM salmon since 1996. It also produces feeds to speed up the growth and boost the immunity of farmed shrimp.
The fish have been given two genes from other species — a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon, the largest of the Pacific salmon species, and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout which ‘switches on’ the growth hormone.
The combination of these two genes allows the GM salmon to keep producing a growth factor hormone — the substance that triggers their metabolism to eat more and put on weight — all the year round.