Alison L Van Eenennaama, an animal genomics and biotechnology Extension specialist at the University of California Davis. (Photo: ucdavis.edu/FIS)
Scientist defends genetically engineered salmon
Tuesday, August 09, 2011, 02:00 (GMT + 9)
A Purdue University scientist is urging US officials to make progress on the decision of whether genetically engineered (GE) salmon would be allowed for US consumption.
The scientist made the case that not doing so may hinder scientific efforts to bolster food production.
William Muir, a professor of animal sciences, said that the data made available by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) points to AquaBounty Technologies’s AquAdvantage (AA) salmon posing little real risk to the environment or human health.
"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 said.
Muir and Alison L Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology Extension specialist at the University of California Davis, urged FDA approval in a peer-reviewed commentary in the online version of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The salmon has been stuck in FDA regulatory proceedings since 1995. Such delays deter those working to increase food supplies, Muir said.
"This tells us that no entrepreneur is going to invest in these new projects because they can't get them approved," Muir opined.
Alan Mathew, head of Purdue's Department of Animal Sciences, served on the FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, which did not find any significant concerns for the transgenic salmon.
"We determined there was not added risk. This is generally the same food as farm-raised and wild salmon," he said.
Mathew said genetic engineering simply shortens the time it takes for crops and animals to gain favorable traits.
The commentary refutes concerns raised by special interest groups over GE salmon point by point.
One concern is that if GE salmon were introduced into the wild salmon population, they would cause its extinction -- a theoretical scenario discovered earlier by Muir. However, he examined fitness data and concluded that AA salmon are less fit than their native counterparts and natural selection would thus purge them from the wild population.
"There is no evidence to support concern for an extinction event," Muir said.
He also noted that AquaBounty has created multiple redundant measures to prevent the fish from entering natural populations.
As regards human health concerns, transgenic salmon were said to have more allergens than natural wild salmon, raising concerns that consuming GE salmon could harm people.
But Muir said there is no baseline for the amount of allergens a fish may contain before it is unsafe for consumption -- and that many fish consumed regularly, including herring, have significantly more allergens than AA salmon.
He also argued that the FDA will treat AA salmon like a new drug that has traversed the regulatory process, meaning that the agency can approve and continue to monitor the salmon, so the government could withdraw its approval if new concerns are raised and found to be valid.
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By Natalia Real