Soon, GM salmons may hit market

Last Updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 17:43

Washington: American scientists claim to
have succeeded in genetically engineering a salmon fish which
can reach its `market size` about four times faster than a
normal salmonidae species.

The transgenic salmon, developed by US-based biotechnology
firm AquaBounty Technologies, is currently under examination
by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and could soon
become the first GM fish to win the food regulator`s approval
as food.

According to experts, both genetically modified fish and
farmed fish represent the future of food as long as they meet
health and safety standards.

However, some experts suggested delaying any approval
till the studies on how such rapid growth affects the health
of the fish.

"The FDA said it would continue to monitor how well the
fish perform over time," said Craig Altier, a molecular
biologist at Cornell University.

"I suggested the time to do it would be now, before
approval," Altier told LiveScience.

The main concerns seem to involve animal welfare rather
than direct risks to human health, according to Altier, who is
also a member of the FDA`s Veterinary Medicine Advisory
Committee.

AquaBounty`s Atlantic salmon has additional DNA from both
Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel-like fish, which allows it
to keep pumping out growth hormone year-round. So while the
modified salmon doesn`t grow bigger than normal salmon, its
hyper-growth rate means that it can go to market sooner.

To ensure the genetic tinkering resulted in a fish safe
to eat, the FDA ran "exhaustive" safety tests that turned up
no increase in allergens -- a possible human danger pointed
out by critics -- beyond the fact that fish already cause
allergic reactions in some people. Growth hormone in the fish
also exists in all meats consumed by humans.

"The FDA examined just about every component of the meat
that they could think of," Altier said.

Still, concerns remained about whether some of the
studies had been large enough. Altier pointed out that
AquaBounty`s study on the health of the fish involved groups
of just three to six fish, for a total of 120 in all.

AquaBounty plans to grow only female fish at two indoor
facilities. A smaller breeding facility at Prince Edward
Island, Canada, would hold fertile salmon that provided the
eggs.

High pressure applied to the eggs renders the resulting
offspring sterile with around a 99 per cent effectiveness
rate, said Eric Hallerman of Virginia Tech, who made a
presentation at the FDA hearings.

The sterile, all-female offspring would grow up at a
separate isolated facility in Panama. Their self-contained
tanks would use re-circulated water, with redundant security
measures to prevent accidental release.

For now, the FDA has told AquaBounty to keep collecting
health data on its genetically modified fish for an indefinite
period of time. A decision by the federal agency on whether
the fish can go to market could come within the next several
weeks or months.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 17:43

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