Scientist: GM salmon safe, necessary for humans

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
August 9, 2011

A Purdue University scientist is arguing that failure to approve genetically modified (GM) salmon for human consumption “may set back efforts to increase food production.”

William Muir, a professor of animal sciences, is contending, based on data made available by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that the GM salmon developed by Waltham, Mass., biotechnology firm AquaBounty Technologies poses “little real risk to the environment or human health.” Nearly a year ago, FDA scientists preliminarily determined that AquAdvantage Salmon, is safe for human consumption, though more research is being conducted. The salmon would become the first GM fish approved for human consumption.

“We realize that any new technology can have risks, and those risks need to be assessed in a thorough and convincing manner,” said Muir, clarifying that he has not received any funding or support from AquaBounty Technologies. “However, once the assessment has been completed and the agency concludes from the weight of evidence that risks of harm, either to the environment or to consumers, is negligible, the next step, which is to allow production and sale of the product, needs to be taken.”

Muir and Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology extension specialist at the University of California-Davis, urged the FDA to approve the GM salmon in a peer-reviewed commentary in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Muir added that no entrepreneur will invest in such projects if they can’t be approved.

Alan Mathew, head of Purdue’s Department of Animal Sciences and a member of the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, reiterated that the committee did not find “any significant concerns” for the GM salmon, adding that he is convinced that it’s safe for human consumption.

“We determined there was not added risk,” said Mathew. “This is generally the same food as farm-raised and wild salmon.”

Late last week, 38 industry groups, including the National Aquaculture Association and Catfish Famers of America, asked Congress to avoid interfering in the FDA’s science-based process of approving human and animal drugs, devices and vaccines. Doing so would “disrupt the FDA’s congressional mandate to base its assessments of human and animal drugs, devices, vaccines … on the best-available science. Such a disruption would diminish the credibility of the FDA approval process at home and overseas. The global reputation of FDA’s science-based review procedure is based on the agency’s objectivity.”

The recommendation came nearly three weeks after 23 members of Congress urged the FDA to abandon its approval process for GM salmon as food, threatening to push legislation to strip the agency’s funding to study the fish if it fails to comply.

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