If envi­ron­mental activists decide nearly 20 years of research is not suf­fi­cient to back a decision, perhaps it is a good thing they aren’t the ones making the decision.

After a long struggle upstream, the Food and Drug Admin­is­tration approved genet­i­cally engi­neered salmon on Nov. 19 — the first GE animal to be declared safe for human con­sumption. Though some envi­ron­mental groups have raised con­cerns about the potential envi­ron­mental effects these fish will have, their unease with the FDA’s decision is ill-founded.

This decision is hardly an across-the-board approval for GE organisms: the FDA has approved only two facil­ities that can raise trans­genic salmon specif­i­cally, both owned by the same company, AquaBounty. The GE salmon grow to maturity in eight to 12 months, as opposed to the 30 months that ordinary salmon require to mature. According to a review study pub­lished in “Bio­Science,” the GE salmon’s accel­erated growth rate stems from the two genes taken from Chinook salmon and eel DNA. Although the FDA reported slightly dif­ferent nutri­tional values of omega-three fatty acids, zinc, and folic acid in wild and GE salmon, the trans­genic salmon meet the same quality stan­dards met by all other fish on the market.

Although critics fear that GE salmon eggs or small fish may escape through the water, which must be recycled for inland facil­ities, this poses no great envi­ron­mental risk. The FDA has only approved two AquaBounty facil­ities to raise these salmon, both of which are located outside of the U.S. The inland tanks are much more secure than open-ocean tanks, and the FDA’s assessment reports indicate that all areas of the tank which could serve as potential escape routes are blocked by a series of filter screens and netting. Addi­tionally, these tanks are hardly dif­ferent from those used in lab­o­ratory envi­ron­ments, making AquaBounty’s pro­duction no less safe than any further research con­ducted on GE salmon. Fur­thermore, AquaBounty only pro­duces sterile female salmon, so any eggs that somehow escape the fil­tration system would not pose a threat to wild salmon.

In addition to these pre­cau­tions, the novelty of GE animals also helps ensure the safety of the fishery pro­ce­dures. As is the case with all new tech­no­logical advances, GE salmon con­tinue to fall under the scrutiny of envi­ron­mental groups and reg­u­latory agencies. This is as it should be — there is still much research to be done before trans­genic organisms can be released into the wild. For now, we should rest easy with the FDA’s approval of GE salmon for human con­sumption and the body of research which sup­ports their decision. All progress requires some amount of risk, and the risk in the FDA’s decision poses a very minimal threat to the envi­ronment.