September 6, 2010

Genetically Enhanced Salmon Could Win FDA Approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will decide whether or not to allow the sale of genetically engineered salmon during a hearing later this month, according to a Monday AFP report.

During the hearing, which is set for September 19 and 20, the federal food safety organization will consider a proposal from AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts, according to Rob Lever of the French news agency. The company is seeking permission to produce and market Atlantic salmon that have been enhanced with the growth hormone genes of the Chinook salmon.

"The company said the genetic change allows the fish to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon but that in all other respects, its AquAdvantage salmon 'are identical to other Atlantic salmon,'" Lever reports. "The new strain of salmon can help meet rising demand for fish and reduce pressure on wild fish stocks, the firm contends. It says it can avoid the pollution, disease and other problems associated with saltwater fish farms by raising the salmon at inland facilities.

AquaBounty Technologies chief executive Rob Stotish told AFP, "The benefit of this technology is that because the fish grows more efficiently it can be grown faster and closer to population centers"¦ I think this technology can be a tremendous aid to assuring a safe and sustainable food supply."

However, many environmental and food safety groups are objecting to Stotish's proposal, according to Lever. They fear that FDA approval of the modified salmon could open the door for other, more drastically modified types of food animals which threaten the traditional population of wild salmon and "may pose health or environmental dangers."

"Without the required testing and safety data we have no way to prove the transgenic salmon is safe to eat," countered Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union, in a September 3 press release posted to the Center for Food Safety's official website. The Center for Food Safety is one of 31 organizations who have petitioned the FDA to reject the AquAdvantage salmon.

"Our position is that given the data we've seen it shouldn't be approved but if it is approved, it should be labeled," he added, in comments made to the AFP. "If they don't label it, all other US farmed salmon is going to be assumed to be genetically engineered, so it would damage the industry."


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