Gene-Altered Fish Moves Closer to Federal Approval

by jeeg 22. December 2012 01:02

Government regulators moved a big step closer on Friday to allowing the first genetically engineered animal — a fast-growing salmon — to enter the nation’s food supply.

 

The Food and Drug Administration said it had concluded that the genetically engineered salmon would have “no significant impact” on the environment. The agency also said the salmon was “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon.”

While the agency’s draft environmental assessment, posted on its Web site, will be open to public comment for 60 days, it now seems highly likely that the salmon will be approved.

A spokesman for the F.D.A. said it was not possible to predict when such a decision might be made.

The environmental assessment was dated May 4. It was unclear why it took until now for it to be released, but backers of bringing the salmon to market say they believe it was because the Obama administration was afraid of an unfavorable consumer reaction before the election in November.

Some environmental and consumer groups quickly condemned the F.D.A. assessment Friday.

“The G.E. salmon has no socially redeeming value,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group opposed to farm biotechnology, said in a statement. “It’s bad for the consumer, bad for the salmon industry and bad for the environment. F.D.A.’s decision is premature and misguided.”

But the decision was long in coming. AquaBounty Technologies, the company that developed the salmon, has been trying to win approval for more than a decade.

The AquaAdvantage salmon, as it is called, is an Atlantic salmon that contains an extra growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout, an eel-like creature. The switch keeps the growth-hormone gene constantly on, allowing the salmon to reach market weight in about 18 months instead of three years, the company has said.

The F.D.A. tentatively concluded in 2010 that the salmon would be safe to eat and safe for the environment under the conditions that AquaBounty proposed to produce it. A committee of outside advisers, while finding some shortcomings in the agency’s analysis, in general did not contradict those conclusions.

With the committee’s input, the agency then embarked on a more detailed environmental analysis that has now come to the same conclusions.

The F.D.A. said that there would be multiple biological and physical measures taken to keep the salmon from escaping the fish farms. Even if they did escape, the agency said, they could probably not survive and mate in order to establish themselves in the wild.

The agency also said approval of the salmon would have no impact on endangered species, including wild Atlantic salmon. It said that two other government agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, did not disagree with that finding.

The F.D.A. also said that if it did not approve the salmon, attempts might be made to get approval from other countries, perhaps with less restrictive containment conditions so that adverse environmental events would be more likely to occur.

AquaBounty, based in Maynard, Mass., almost ran out of money waiting for the salmon to be approved. The company and some outside agricultural scientists had complained that the long delay endangered the ability of the fledgling animal biotechnology business to attract investment.

Andrew Pollack, NY Times

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