Responsible approach to GM fish is to assume escape: Committee hearing

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fish, Aquaculture

Responsible approach to GM fish is to assume escape: Committee hearing
The responsible approach to considering whether genetically engineered (GE) salmon pose a risk to the environment is to assume that the fish will escape and disregard assurances from the company that they would not, said Senator Mark Begich at a committee hearing on Thursday.

“The prudent and responsible approach here is to assume the fish will escape,” ​said Senator Begich (D-AK) at a hearing of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Begich called the hearing to discuss the potential environmental impacts of genetically engineered salmon, but said the food safety aspects would be left to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“If these fish were to get out into the wild they could wreak havoc on marine and freshwater ecosystems,”​ Begich said. “…I’m not convinced that this agency has the scientific expertise to assess the environmental impacts.”

Begich also introduced Senate bill 1717, to "prevent the escapement of genetically altered salmon in the United States" ​, which would prohibit the sale of the fish within the United States but continue to allow research using GE fish for purposes such as medical developments, he said.

The fish, dubbed AquAvantage by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, which developed it, is Atlantic salmon given the growth hormone gene of the faster-growing Pacific salmon, along with DNA from the eel-like ocean pout. The company claims that the resulting salmon reaches maturity twice as fast as regular Atlantic salmon, and requires 25% less food.

During the hearing, CEO of AquaBounty, Ron Stotish, defended the company’s precautions to prevent AquAvantage fish from escaping.

He said: “Our hatchery is designed with multiple redundant physical barriers that prevent escape of any life stage. We’ve operated this hatchery for over 15 years, been inspected on multiple occasions by a variety of federal agencies from two countries, and never lost a single fish.”

Precautions taken by the firm in an attempt to avoid impacting wild fish populations include confining the fish to culture systems and geographic regions that minimize their chance of escape and subsequent survival, and a sterile, all-female fish population.

Other witnesses that appeared before the committee were John Epifanio of the Illinois Natural History Survey, Paul Greenberg, journalist and author, and George Leonard, aquaculture program director at Ocean Conservancy. They all urged caution about allowing the sale of GE fish.

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Thank Goodness

Posted by Jennifer Christiano,

Thank goodness somebody in the political world is taking this seriously. But it's not just about whole fish escaping (which WILL, as Phil pointed out, happen whether by accident or activism or espionage), but about GENE escape - which none of the dim bulbs involved in this issue are willing to acknowledge.

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A politician in the real world

Posted by Phil Roberts,

Thank goodness for Senator Begich. A politician who deals in the real world. Europe already has a negative about GM and here is the US trying to populate the world with Frankenstein Fish which will swim around fertilising all the normal salmon. And not my words but a 100% accurate prediction of what will be said and written.

FDA does not get it right 100% of the time and this is one of those when it proves this fact.

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