U.S. to rule on genetically modified 'frankenfish'
Published Monday, September 20, 2010 9:12PM EDT
Food regulators in the United States are considering whether restaurants and grocery stores will be allowed to sell a genetically modified animal for the first time.
Two days of public hearings got underway in Washington Monday to analyze a U.S. company's proposal to create genetically engineered salmon -- the so-called Frankenfish.
Ron Stotish, CEO of AquaBounty, told Food and Drug Administration officials at the hearings that his company's fish is both safe to eat and environmentally sustainable.
But critics of genetically modified fish will also speak at the hearings. They are expected to argue that selling modified salmon could lead to allergies in humans and cripple wild salmon stocks.
Consumer and environmental groups from Canada and the U.S. have rallied against the proposal by AquaBounty, worried a favourable ruling would open the floodgates to the genetic modification of many food products destined for dinner tables.
The company -- which intends to make a similar request in Canada -- argues that its product will reduce pressure on wild salmon stocks.
The FDA has already said the salmon is healthy to eat. And while genetically modified crops are widely used in the U.S., the agency hasn't yet approved the sale of modified animals.
On Tuesday, the FDA hearings will examine the food labelling issues surrounding the potential approval of the modified fish. It is also expected to consider whether the government should allow the salmon to be sold on the market.
Approving Aqua Bounty's application could pave the way for genetically engineered animals, such as an environmentally friendly pig being developed here in Canada, and cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease.
"For future applications out there the sky's the limit," said David Edwards with the Biotechnology Industry Association. "If you can imagine it, scientists can try to do it."
AquaBounty, which has a large production facility in Bay Fortune, P.E.I., has faced challenges from opponents who say there are "gaps in the science" around whether the fish is safe to eat.
"We're really concerned that the U.S. government is not seriously looking at the health risks of eating (genetically engineered) fish," Mary Boyd of the PEI Health Coalition said in a statement last week.
"Certainly Health Canada should not even consider approving (genetically engineered) fish," she added.
Aqua Bounty intends to produce all the genetically modified fish eggs at the Bay Fortune facility.
The eggs would then be shipped to Panama to grow the fish to a sellable size and process them before they enter the U.S. market.
Salmon produced by Aqua Bounty is said to grow twice as fast as its natural counterparts due to the addition of genes from Pacific salmon and ocean pout to Atlantic salmon.
The fish, which are 99 per cent sterile, would be kept in tanks on land -- protective measures that Aqua Bounty says ensure the safety of its product.
The company first applied for FDA approval in 1995. However, the FDA only began to consider applications for genetically modified animals two years ago.
The genetic engineering process involved altering a creature's DNA to create any number of desirable traits.
AquaBounty's salmon contain a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from an ocean pout fish that allow them to grow much more quickly than naturally occurring salmon.
With files from The Associated Press