Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said he saw no evidence to suggest that the salmon would be unhealthful to eat nor that AquaBounty's Panama facility would pose an environmental risk. But he added that the small volume of fish the company could produce there amounts to "a lot of effort for not a lot of fish" — and thus the plan amounts to no more than a proof of concept.
For the AquAdvantage salmon to make a dent in the market, many more tanks would have to be built — and the environmental impact of all of them together can't be assessed by approving them one at a time, Jaffe said: "Each one individually may have safeguards to prevent environmental impact, but if you look cumulatively, errors happen."
Movement from the FDA may come in the nick of time for AquaBounty, which is also developing fast-growing trout and tilapia but is close to running out of money.
"If they go to production and people actually buy this fish in spite of what's being said, then I think other investors will see other opportunities for transgenic animals," said James Murray, an animal geneticist at UC Davis who has developed genetically engineered goats to fight diarrheal diseases in children. "Even if it's not successful, just the fact that an animal product can be approved will mean to investors that the potential for a good idea can be carried through to market."
The FDA's actions Friday say nothing about whether the fish, should it ultimately come to market, would need to be labeled. California voters recently considered a ballot initiative to require labels on certain foods with genetically modified ingredients, but the measure failed.