Fishermen, Lawmakers Prepare for Possible Introduction of Modified Salmon
JUNEAU, Alaska A Massachusetts company expects to get the federal government's OK to sell genetically enhanced salmon within a year, a prospect that scares some Alaskan fishermen.
If Waltham, Mass.-based Aqua Bounty Technologies' application to the Food and Drug Administration is approved, the salmon would be the first genetically enhanced animal sold for consumption in the United States.
Aqua Bounty began its federal application process about nine years ago, said company spokesman Joe McGonigle.
FDA spokeswoman Rae Jones confirmed that Aqua Bounty has an application pending, but declined to comment further.
The earliest the genetically modified salmon could hit U.S. and Canadian markets would be sometime in the next decade after permits for selling and raising the fish in both countries are approved.
The company says its genetically enhanced salmon grow from an egg to maturity in 14 to 16 months, compared with the 22 to 30 months it takes wild salmon. It plans to sell its genetically modified fish eggs to fish farms.
Commercial fishermen in Alaska say they are concerned about what would happen if the modified salmon escape their pens and mingle with wild salmon.
"Already we fear Atlantic salmon as an invasive species in our productive salmon spawning waters," said Mark Vinsel, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. "When you add in the genetically modified fish, I think the concerns are multiplied."
Some fishermen and anti-fish farming states such as Alaska have denounced genetically modified, or transgenic, salmon as unhealthy, uneconomical and dangerous to native species.
Producers and industry representatives argue the fish are safe, and genetically modified foods are already widely accepted in the United States.
"Fish would be no different from a soybean plant or cheese," said Lisa Dry, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We're in our 10th year of eating these products. ... They're just so prevalent in our diet, I think that speaks to safety."
Gregory Jaffey of the Center for Science in the Public Interest cautioned, however, that no one knows for certain about safety because the federal regulatory process is closed.
"I don't anticipate that there will be health problems ... but I would want to be able to see that data," he said.
State lawmakers are already preparing for the introduction of genetically modified fish. A bill by Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat from Juneau, and Sen. Gary Stevens, a Republican from Kodiak, would require labeling genetically modified fish.
The bill passed the Senate and is being considered by the House.
Source: Associated Press