The first genetically modified meat and fish could go on sale this summer. Authorities in the USare expected to grant approval to Aquabounty salmon, which has been modified to grow twice as fast as normal salmon.
And experts trying to combat world hunger are calling on the British government to back the use of GM farm animals on the dinner table here.
The push into GM meat could see the production of hens that have only female chicks and cattle made disease-resistant using genes from baboons.
But the move will alarm critics of the use of GM technology who are still battling to block the expansion of genetically modified crops.
Professor Helen Sang, GM animal expert at the Roslin Institute — where Dolly the sheep was cloned — insisted fears surrounding “Frankenstein” foods can be overcome.
Roslin scientists called on the Government to support the spread of GM into farm animals but admit there will need to be a change in attitude among British families and retailers.
They say a new technique of gene editing allows precise changes to be made in animals destined to be eaten.
Professor Sang said: “This a very exciting time. We have GM animals that have qualities you can’t achieve through conventional animal breeding.
“The problem with GM is that it is seen as mumbo jumbo magic. But if people can understand what the aims are and what we are trying to achieve then they are much more comfortable.
“It is an issue for us that the supermarkets decided many years ago not to sell GM food. They will have to change what they do, which will be a challenge for them. Food production is an international business and so GM animals may become acceptable in other countries before it is accepted here.”
The US is expected to approve Aquabounty salmon in the next few weeks. It is produced by inserting a growth hormone gene and another gene taken from the eel-like ocean pout. The fish would be sterile and raised in vast tanks on land rather than in sea cages.
Bruce Whitelaw, Professor of Animal Biotechnology at Roslin, said the main priorities of animal breeding companies are to create disease-resistant animals and manipulate the gender of offspring.
But Chinese scientists are also working on creating bigger, faster-growing food animals, he said.
Dr Helen Wallace of GeneWatch, which campaigns to ensure any use of GM is in the public interest, warned: “GM fish escapes could pose a serious threat to wild salmon populations.” An EU move to allow the use of GM animals and insects modified to help destroy crop pests “amounts to engineering whole ecosystems and no one knows the consequences of this”, she said.
Pete Riley, of the GM Freeze campaign, said: “We can see no advantages from GM animals in either food production, pest control or disease control.
“We know from in-breeding using conventional methods that this causes huge genetic problems which impact on the health and welfare of farmed animals.”
— Daily Mail