Engineered salmon may be a tough sell


WASHINGTON (AP) — Don’t expect to find genetically
modified salmon — or any other engineered fish or meat — on store
shelves anytime soon.
The Obama administration has stalled for
more than four years on deciding whether to approve a fast-growing
salmon that would be the first genetically modified animal approved for
human consumption.
During that time, opponents of the technology
have taken advantage of increasing consumer concern about genetically
modified foods and urged several major retailers not to sell it. So far,
two of the nation’s biggest grocers, Safeway and Kroger, have pledged
to keep the salmon off their shelves if it is approved.
of genetically engineered fish and meat say they expect Food and Drug
Administration approval of the salmon and still hope to find a market
for it. However, the retailers’ caution and lengthy regulatory delays
have made investors skittish.
"The FDA delay has caused developers
to take a pause," says Dr. David Edwards of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization, the main industry group for genetically engineered
agriculture. "They’re not really sure where to go as far as the
regulatory system."
By altering genetic materials of animals,
scientists have proposed — and in some cases actually created — animals
that would be bred to be free of diseases, be cleaner in their
environment or grow more efficiently. Think chickens bred to resist
avian flu, "Enviropigs" whose manure doesn’t pollute as much or cattle
bred without horns so they don’t have to be taken off during slaughter.
where the scientists see huge opportunity, critics see a food supply
put at risk. They say modified organisms can escape into the wild or
mingle with native species, with unknown effects.
"These are
fundamental questions we have to ask of society," says Lisa Archer of
Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group that has lobbied retailers not
to sell the modified salmon and urged consumers not to eat it. "Where is
all of this going to end up? Where do we draw the line? Let’s look at
the full implications and the full costs."
There is no evidence
that the foods would be unsafe, but for some it is an ethical issue.
Archer says people have a greater "visceral response" to eating modified
fish and meat than they do engineered crops, which are already fully
integrated into the food supply.
The FDA said in 2010 that the
modified salmon appears to be safe to eat, and said in 2012 that it is
unlikely to harm the environment. But an FDA spokeswoman said "it is not
possible to predict a timeline for when a decision will be made."
Stotish, AquaBounty’s CEO, says the company has already spent $77
million on its AquaAdvantage salmon, which has an added growth hormone
from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows it to grow faster.
executives say there are several safeguards designed to prevent the
fish from escaping and breeding with wild salmon. Still, opponents call
it "Frankenfish" and say not enough is known about it.
AquaBounty’s long road, other projects have remained on the shelf or
moved to other countries. James Murray, a professor of animal sciences
at the University of California at Davis, has genetically modified goats
that produce milk designed to fight childhood diarrhea in poor nations.
He moved his project to Brazil, where he says the regulatory
environment is friendlier and the government is funding some of his
The FDA won’t say how many applications are in line behind the salmon.
researchers, meanwhile, have said they won’t pursue the "Enviropig" in
the United States after investors raised concerns about the length of
the FDA review process. "You can’t get funding in this country because
you can’t get regulation," Murray says.
If the salmon are
approved, it still would take about two years to get them to market — if
anyone will sell them. Although some of the biggest grocery chains have
pledged not to, one major retailer has not weighed in — Wal-Mart, the
nation’s largest grocer. Opponents are aggressively lobbying the company
to keep it off its shelves.
The fish is not expected to be
labeled as genetically modified under FDA guidelines, so if retailers do
sell it, consumers wouldn’t know if they are buying it.
AquaBounty’s CEO says he’s holding out hope for approval.
believe that if we’re given a fair chance the marketplace is the place
to evaluate this," Stotish says. "If the product were available I think
people could choose for themselves."
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