Panama expects benefits from world's first GM salmon
Panama's researchers have played a key role in creating a rapidly growing salmon that may soon become the world's first commercially sold genetically modified (GM) animal.
The US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled the consumption of GM salmon to be as safe as conventional Atlantic salmon, and is now analyzing public comments on its environmental impact as the final part of the approval process.
If the FDA permits the transgenic salmon to be imported for human consumption — which the firm that developed the fish hopes will be granted this year — the research station in Panama that is studying the GM salmon would switch to growing it for the US market.
This would have trickle-down benefits for local firms and ensure further research into GM salmon and how best to grow it, according to Henry Clifford, vice-president of marketing and sales at AquaBounty Technologies, the US biotechnology company that developed the fish, dubbed AquAdvantage salmon, which grows twice as fast as wild salmon. The project is based in Panama because of the country's long-standing policy support for aquaculture and GM organisms, says Clifford.
He adds that all employees at the Panama research site are local researchers and that one of the reasons the company decided to establish its facility there was because of its "large pool of experienced biologists and production managers with many years of successful experience managing aquaculture operations".
The project is already bringing new technologies and knowledge to Panama, the company claims.
"Ever since the project began in 2009, R&D professionals from the local Panamanian authorities have been intimately involved in the oversight of our project," says Clifford. "So there is a process in which AquaBounty is transferring technology and know-how to local Panamanian scientists, researchers and other professionals."
If the FDA approves the salmon's import, AquaBounty will request Panama's permission to convert the research facility into a production one — but it is likely to continue R&D activities, too.
"For example, we might work with the local feed manufacturer to develop better feed formulations for our salmon," says Clifford.
The company also expects local firms to benefit.
"As aquaculture projects develop in Panama, there are tangible trickle-down economic benefits for ancillary support businesses such as feed mill and packing plants," says Clifford.
In a draft environmental assessment published in December 2012 , the FDA stated that "food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon, and that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from [the fish]".
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Salmon image via Shutterstock.