Business Costs & Regulation

FDA Set to OK Genetically Altered Fish as Food

Next up: Bacon and pork chops from genetically modified "Enviropigs."

A fast growing genetically engineered salmon is a good bet for approval by the Food and Drug Administration. It would be the first genetically modified animal sold as food. Dubbed “Frankenfish” by opponents, the new version of Atlantic salmon was developed by AquaBounty Technologies. It grows almost twice as fast as farm-raised salmon, thanks to one growth hormone gene from a chinook salmon and another from an eel, the ocean pout. The application has been pending before the agency for well over 10 years.

A congressional effort to ban the fish will fail, although it’s a fair bet that lawmakers will give the FDA the authority to require a label identifying the produce as genetically modified. “Approval of genetically modified salmon, the first such hybrid to be considered for human consumption, is unprecedented, risky and a threat to the survival of wild species,” says Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, whose state has a thriving salmon industry.

Also likely to be on the table: Broadening the mission of regulators to ensure they consider environmental risks before granting future approvals -- not just whether the food is safe and whether animals are harmed by the genetic manipulation.

A push to add greater public input to the approval process is also a good bet. The current procedure is similar to that for new drugs, with limited public participation. “The current process is confidential. It’s not transparent or participatory,” says Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Next up: The Enviropig -- a porker genetically altered to make the manure it produces less polluting, with phosphorus levels 30% to 65% lower than normal. It’s being developed by scientists at the University of Guelph in Canada. Also in the works from Hematech Inc. are cattle that are not susceptible to mad cow disease. The animals lack a protein that mutates, so they don’t get the disease and can’t pass it on.

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