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GM salmon accusations off base
Wednesday,23 May,2012 14:27:08
Alaska’s politicians really seem to have it out for AquaBounty, the Massachusetts company that’s trying to gain FDA approval to bring the first genetically modified (GM) salmon to the marketplace. They are now asking that NOAA analyze the environmental impacts of GM salmon before FDA approval. Since the only GM fish in the regulatory gauntlet is that of AquaBounty, clearly this is aimed at this fish. These fish are not going to be farmed in net pens. The permit is to produce them in fresh water in a landlocked facility in Panama, more than a hundred miles inland in a facility with multiple levels of biosecurity!
This company has run a multi-year gauntlet and has done everything and more that regulators have asked of them. They have been maligned in the press and the dangers exaggerated beyond any measure of common sense (and certainly beyond any legitimate scientific concerns). This is not the first time that U.S. senators from Alaska have tried to sink this ship. Alaska is unashamedly anti-aquaculture, although the state produces more than a billion-and-a-half salmon for release annually in 35 hatcheries that account for a significant percentage of the fish that are caught and sold each year. I have always thought of ocean ranching as a form of aquaculture. This goes beyond being anti-aquaculture, though. There is simply no way that the fish produced by AquaBounty, given its current production constraints, could possibly ever have an impact on this or any other salmon, wild or farmed, being produced anywhere.
Even if the fish were being produced in net pens on the West Coast, the fish are sterile, all female triploids. If we assume that the technology is not 100 percent (although the evidence supports the concept that it is) and some of the fish escaped, the odds of a successful mating with viable offspring are so small as to be zero for all practical purposes. As you can see, we are now firmly in the area of fantasy as these fish will never be in a net pen. It is common knowledge that AquaBounty has had to seek additional capital to fight this seemingly never-ending battle. Asking for additional studies is nothing more than a stall tactic in a bid to try and wear out the investor’s patience and make the whole thing go away. As I have said before, the risk to the public from the sale of this fish are miniscule — no more than that of consuming wild fish and arguably, in some cases, the risk is even less. Let the public decide and stop with the politics.
I see this as just one more in a series of events that want to ensure that the U.S. loses its lead in many areas of science. This is not just my opinion, but also a concern that has been voiced by many. If you just consider the discipline of aquaculture alone and look at who is publishing in peer-reviewed journals, the trend is obvious. If anti-progress forces continue to take the stance that they are and ultra-conservatism wedded with the precautionary principle continues to dominate, then this is certainly one more area where the U.S. will lag far behind. GM animals are here to stay, and there is no logical reason to automatically assume that they are going to be harmful. Give AquaBounty a break and let the market decide if there is room for their fish.