(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2010) AquaBounty Technologies Inc.. a small biotechnology firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is seeking FDA approval for a genetically engineered salmon, hoping to do for aquaculture what biotech giants such as Monsanto have done for agronomy. Currently, the vast majority of US soybeans, corn, and cotton are genetically engineered, but this would be the first commercially available genetically engineered food animal. While AquaBounty argues their fish will help feed the world, many are leery of â€śfrankenfishâ€ť being introduced into the food supply. If the proliferation of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. is any indication, the introduction of genetically engineered animals into the food supply will fail to produce an increase in yield.
AquaBounty has invested $50 million over 14 years to develop AquAdvantage Fish. AquAdvantage Salmon (AAS) unlike conventional salmon grows year around reaching market weight in 18 months instead of 36, and consuming 25% less food over its lifetime. The variety was developed by inserting part of a gene from an Ocean Pout, an eel-like fish, into the growth gene of a Chinook salmon. The blended genetic material is then injected into the fertilized egg of a North Atlantic salmon. According to AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish, the engineered salmon is identical to conventional salmon in taste color and protein. AquaBounty is also developing AquAdvantage trout and tilapia.
Many are concerned about the potential for genetically engineered animals to cross breed with wild animals, resulting in genes escaping into the wild. The use of genetically engineered crops has lead to several engineered genes escaping into the wild, creating so-called superweeds. To prevent genes from escaping into wild populations, AquaBounty would create sterile fish and require producers to raise salmon in inland tanks, as opposed to ocean pens where most farmed salmon are raised. However, sterilization can occasionally fail and AquaBounty may sell to producers overseas who are not bound by U.S. regulations.
Many strongly oppose genetic engineering of any foodstuff, over threats genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pose to human health and the environment, but the idea of a genetically engineered animal brings even greater trepidation. According to Paul Thompson, an agricultural ethicist at Michigan State University, â€śThere might be a kind of boundary-crossing going on that might be yucky.” Environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, oppose all GMOâ€™s including AquAdvantage fish. The main trade association of U.S. seafood producers, the National Fisheries Institute, has come out in support of genetically engineered fish. Several other aquaculture groups, however, have voiced opposition. Jorgen Christiansen of Oslo based Marine Harvest, the worldâ€™s largest farmed salmon producer, opposes AAS over concerns consumers would be reluctant to buy genetically engineered fish. The International Salmon Farmers Association is also in opposition. Many consumer advocates are concerned, because there is currently no regulation that would require the genetically engineered fish to be labeled as such.
According to Mr. Stotish, the FDA has completed a review of AquaBountyâ€™s application. The next step is to convene an advisory committee to weigh evidence and collect public testimony, a process that is expected to take several months. Eric Hallerman, head of the fisheries and wildlife sciences department at Virgina Tech University, called this a â€śthreshold caseâ€¦ If itâ€™s approved there will be others. If itâ€™s not, itâ€™ll have a chilling effect for years.â€ť
Beyond Pesticides believes that genetically engineered food is short sighted and dangerous. For more information on Genetic Engineering, see our program page.
Source: Los Angles Times