Upstream Battle for Genetically Engineered Salmon

September 15, 2010

Genetic engineering's application to animals for food has lagged, despite success in other areas like pharmaceuticals and plants.  Blame public policy, not technical difficulty, says Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a case in point.  This month the FDA will discuss the possible approval for marketing of a salmon genetically engineered to grow and reach maturity more quickly than its unmodified cohorts.

  • The genetic change confers no detectable difference in its appearance, taste or nutritional value; it just grows faster.
  • Even the FDA's own exhaustive analysis concludes that the salmon has no detectable differences and that it "is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon."
  • And because the fish to be marketed will be sterile and farmed inland, there is virtually no possibility of any sort of "genetic contamination" of the gene pool or other environmental effects.

Nevertheless, this poor salmon has been flopping around in regulatory limbo for 10 years.

  • The FDA's onerous premarket approval requirements apply only if the animal has been modified with state-of-the-art recombinant DNA techniques.
  • Thus, even though used for food, if the fast-maturing Atlantic salmon were the result of some sort of artificial insemination instead of genetic engineering techniques, it would be exempt from pre-approval evaluation.
  • This is also true for food animals long produced with less precise, less predictable methods of genetic modification, such as the beefalo, a cow-buffalo hybrid that has never been regulated by the FDA.

In other words, the trigger for onerous FDA regulation is not the risk-related traits of an animal but the use of a certain technology, and the most precise and predictable one at that, says Miller.

Source: Henry I. Miller, "Upstream Battle for Genetically Engineered Salmon," Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2010.

For text:

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