The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday approved genetically modified salmon, the first such altered animal allowed for human consumption in the United States.
The Obama administration had stalled in approving the fast-growing salmon for more than five years amid consumer concerns about eating genetically modified foods. But the agency said Thursday the fish is safe to eat.
In announcing the approval, the FDA said that there are "no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon."
A 2012 FDA assessment showed that development of the salmon is unlikely to harm the environment.
AquAdvantage Salmon was created by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty. Ron Stotish, the company's CEO, said in a statement that the fish is a "game changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats."
There is no evidence that the foods would be unsafe, but for some people, it's an ethical issue. The decision quickly drew the ire of advocacy groups.
"This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition," Food & Water Watch, a Washington D.C. based consumer rights group said in a statement.
The approval comes with the condition that the salmon be raised only in two specific land-based, contained hatchery tanks in Canada and Panama, and not in the United States.
The FDA said Thursday that while the law does not require food containing the genetically modified salmon to be labeled as such, it "supports voluntary labeling" because many consumers "want to know whether their food or any ingredients in their food is derived from genetically engineered sources."
Some retailers have pledged not to sell the salmon, which has an added gene from the Pacific Chinook salmon that enables the fish to produce more growth hormone and grow faster.
By altering genetic materials, scientists have proposed — and in some cases, actually created — animals that would be bred to be disease-free, cleaner in their environments or grow more efficiently.
Al Jazeera and wire services