WASHINGTON (Reuters) U.S. health officials are set to rule on whether a faster-growing, genetically engineered fish is safe to eat in a decision that could deliver the first altered animal food to consumers' dinner plates.

The fish, made by Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc, is manipulated to grow twice as fast as traditional Atlantic salmon, something the company says could boost the nation's fish sector and reduce pressure on the environment.

"They're basically putting the fish on permanent growth hormone so it grows faster ... so they can sell bigger fish faster," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst for the nonprofit Center for Food Safety.

The small Massachusetts-based biotechnology company is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval to sell its salmon, called AquAdvantage, to fish farmers nationwide.

If given the green light, the salmon could be followed by the company's engineered trout and tilapia. Other scientists are also developing altered pigs and cows for food. The United States already allows genetically modified plants.

On September 19, the FDA kicks off a three-day meeting to discuss whether to approve the salmon. Outside advisers will weigh available data and offer advice, although the FDA will later make the final call.

"This is an Atlantic salmon in every measurable way," said Aqua Bounty Chief Executive Ronald Stotish. "When you look at the fish, it's impossible to see the difference."

[[/B]Stotish said the company has analyzed its salmon and found no differences that warrant any kind of special labeling[/B] *personal note - this is where I have a problem.... - if there isn't a label clearly identifying that the fish in the cooler is re-engineered.*
Using technology developed by Canadian researchers, AquAdvantage grows to full size in less than 250 days compared with about 400 days for a traditional Atlantic salmon, according to the biotech.

But some groups say little is known about hazards -- such as allergies or potential digestive problems. And they have criticized the FDA for not releasing any data. The agency has said it hopes to make data public by Friday but that by law it does not have to release it until two days before the meeting.