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 Administrationsaid it had concluded that the 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 will be open to public comment for 60 days, it seems likely that the salmon will be approved, though that could still be months away.
The environmental assessment is dated May 4. It is unclear why it took until now for it to be released, but supporters of the salmon say they believe it is because the Obama administration was afraid of an unfavorable consumer reaction before the election in November.
Environmental and consumer groups quickly criticized the federal agency’s conclusions.
“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.
“We’re encouraged by this,” Ronald Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty, said on Friday. However, he added, “We’re not so foolish as to be wildly enthusiastic” that Friday’s action will definitely lead to approval. Among other things, some members of Congress have tried to block the agency from approving the fish.
The AquAdvantage salmon, as it is called, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout, an eel-like creature. The switch keeps the gene on so that the salmon produces growth hormone year round, rather than only during warm weather. The fish reach market weight in about 18 months instead of three years.
The F.D.A. tentatively concluded in September 2010 that the salmon would be safe to eat and for the environment. A committee of outside advisers, while finding some shortcomings in the analysis, did not contradict those conclusions in general.
The agency then embarked on a more detailed environmental analysis that has now come to the same conclusions.
The main concern addressed was whether the genetically engineered salmon could escape and establish themselves in the wild, with detrimental environmental consequences. The larger salmon, for instance, could conceivably outcompete wild Atlantic salmon for food or mates.
The agency said the chance this would happen was “extremely remote.” It said the salmon would be raised in inland tanks with multiple barriers to escape. Even if some fish did escape, the nearby bodies of water would be too hot or salty for their survival. And reproduction would be unlikely because the fish would be sterilized, though the sterilization technique is not foolproof.
via The New York Times – ANDREW POLLACK
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