FDA Committee Punts on Question of Biotech Fish

By Jennifer Welsh | September 21, 2010 9:23 am

salkmon-avlxyzAn FDA advisory panel has decided what it thinks about genetically modified salmon, and its decision is to not make a decision. The committee says it doesn’t have enough data to fully support approving the biotech salmon, which would make it the first such animal in the country.

“We are missing data,” said panel member James McKean, a professor at Iowa State University. He said that “leaves a cloud” over the FDA staff’s analysis. [Wall Street Journal]

But some other panel members agreed with the FDA’s position that the fish was fine.

“In conclusion, all of the data and information we reviewed … really drive us to the conclusion that AquAdvantage salmon is Atlantic salmon, and food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe as food from other Atlantic salmon,” said Kathleen Jones of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. [ABC News]

The AquaAdvantage salmon was created by adding two genes: an alternate version of the salmon’s growth hormone, taken from its cousin the Chinook salmon, which allows them to grow muscle faster; and a gene regulator from the ocean pout, which allows them to continue growing muscle even under cold conditions.

Some committee members are worried that the fish will escape and disrupt the natural ecosystem. AquaBounty is currently growing only sterile female fish in inland tanks, but the FDA panel worried about what might happen when many facilities are growing the fish, which would be harder to monitor.

The committee’s second main worry stems from a small study of the GM fish’s allergenic properties, where researchers found that there was a slight, though not statistically significant, increase in the fish’s allergenic potential. Only six of the AquAdvantage fish were tested and it was not clear how much of an increase is meaningful.

Kevin Wells, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri and a committee member, said he doubted the fish would cause extra allergies. “The salmon contains nothing that isn’t in the human diet,” he said. [New York Times]

While the committee is asking for more information, AquaBounty says the company has provided more than enough info for the panel to make their decision.

Ron Stotish, the CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, said after the hearing that the committee misinterpreted much of the data and got confused by the “enormous” amount of data presented to them during the hearing, which lasted more than eight hours. [ABC News]

The FDA is still accepting public comment on AquaBounty’s application, and it has not set a timeline for when it will decide the fish’s fate.

Correction, September 22, 2010: The post originally quoted Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, and mis-identified her as a member of the FDA advisory panel. Hauter did speak against approval of the AquAdvantage fish, but she is not on the panel.

Related content:
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Farmed salmon decimate wild populations by exposing them to parasites
Science Not Fiction: You Got Genetic Engineered Fish in My Dish!
80beats: Genetically Modified Salmon May Soon Land on Your Dinner Plate
80beats: FDA Says Genetically Modified Salmon Is Safe to Eat; Decision Looms
80beats: Meet the Genetically Engineered Pig With Earth-Friendly Poop
Discoblog: Holy Crops! Pope Backs Genetically Modified Foods

Image: Flickr/Avlxyz

“In conclusion, all of the data and information we reviewed … really drive us to the conclusion that AquAdvantage salmon is Atlantic salmon, and food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe as food from other Atlantic salmon,” said Kathleen Jones of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Technology
  • Dante The Canadian

    We cannot tell the effects of the salmon on comsumers who eat it regularly until people have been exposed to the fish over years. What is safe now doesn’t mean it will be safe in the future. We used to all think Asbestos was safe as a fire retardent …

  • Bob Snyder

    Well the last time I checked, people weren’t eating Asbestos for dinner. I imagine it wouldn’t take nearly as long to figure out if there were a problem with it…

  • Nemesis

    Isn’t asbestos in Cocoa Pebbles? ;)

  • Elizabeth Stevens

    Ask A Fish

    I talked to a salmon the other day about the new plans to farm genetically-modified salmon.

    I explained that humans – the billions of us, and especially us Americans — feel that we are in dire need of faster, cheaper, more plentiful, more convenient but extremely tasty nutrition options. I conveyed that, since each of us requires pounds of animal flesh daily to maintain our superior brains and stay in top shape as the earth’s most advanced and important species, we’d like to make a few changes for salmon. If it flies, we know schools of other fish to recruit to the new order.

    We’ll revamp how and where you live, I detailed, how and where and when you spawn (or not), how you grow and develop, and et cetera so that you can become perfect little fish protein parcels, nearly ready for consumption. And if, in return for this great opportunity, you’ll just learn to leap onto our plates, that would be very convenient.

    I told the salmon that her kind would be pioneers, the first fish to live with no burdens and no worries, no purpose other than to be food, and no experiences other than to grow and be slaughtered.

    No more flush and excitement of that silly sex drive, no more competition to be your best, no more déjà vu epic journeys to find the ancestral spawning grounds, no more worries about eluding bears while fighting one’s way upstream against the bracing currents.

    No more distractions from the jumble of smells, sights, sounds and sensations of nature. Instead, just a long, long bath with a few thousand of her best girlfriends as they watch each other balloon from the effects of growth hormone genes.

    Their cooperation, I explained, will allow us to live the rich, full lives that only we — as humans — so rightly deserve, to revel in the experiences of our beautiful world, and to follow the biological imperative of every living thing to survive, thrive and reproduce.

    When I asked her what she thought of the plan, she merely goggled at me, her mouth opening and closing silently. Stunned speechless, she was, by the honor of this great opportunity and her incredible good fortune.

    Go ask a fish for yourself, and see what it has to say about the prospect of genetic modification, sterilization and life in a fish farm tank. Or better yet, just think about it for a while on your own and let the damned fish swim while they still can.

  • rabidmob

    I hope that this works out, it would be good if we can get better and more efficient food sources.

  • Katharine

    … dude, Elizabeth, I get your point, but is this a greater condemnation of farming in general? Or is this copypasta from some website?

  • matt

    Oh elizabeth, what a poetic display of conviction! That was enjoyable and I thank you for it.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    “Copypasta.” Hadn’t heard that before. Like it.

    Anywho, it seems this is a bit of copypasta, at least to some degree: same comment was also posted by Elizabeth Stevens on the LA Times’ article about AquAdvantage. Strangely, someone else previously left the same comment on the same post, except it was “Ask A Orange [sic]” rather than “Ask A Fish.”

    So there is something fishy [har] about it…

  • matt

    Well then! Please, divide my appreciation between whomever wrote it and the person who posted it here where I chanced upon it.

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