The genetically modified salmon debate heats up

July 21, 2011

On July 15, U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski joined six other Senators in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), warning the agency not to dismiss the clear congressional opinion opposing the approval of genetically modified salmon. 

The agency is considering an application by AquaBounty Inc. to grow genetically engineered salmon in Panama for importation into the United States, with plans to eventually grow the fish in the U.S. The letter describes the groups concerns over the impact of escaped fish on wild salmon stocks, the suitability of such fish for human consumption, and the FDA’s approval process for the fish.

“FDA hasn’t considered all of the potential negative impacts of genetically altered fish and the strong opposition in Congress to approving something that could decimate wild salmon populations,” said Begich. “Recent scientific evidence shows that if genetically modified salmon escape, they could successfully breed with wild stocks, potentially destroying the genetic adaptations that have allowed fish to thrive for millennia. Alaska wild salmon is abundant and sustainable. We don’t need Frankenfish threatening our fish populations and the coastal communities that rely on them.”

Others signing the letter include Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Daniel Akaka, and Sen. Patty Murray. The House of Representatives also sent a letter to the FDA with the same message.

A statement made by Ronald L. Stotish, President and CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, assures that the fish will be sterile and required to be grown in self-contained inland tanks, posing no threat to the environment. Stotish also stressed that wild caught fisheries are severely stressed and it is possible that major food species will be extinct by 2050.

“We remain confident that the more deliberative body of the Senate will refrain from interfering in the 15-year scientific review by the U.S. FDA. The facts about the safety and the environmental benefits of the fish have been made fully public by the FDA. It would be a dangerous precedent to react to a handful of legislators’ misinformed paranoia. The real waste of tax-payer dollars would be to abandon the important American principle of science-based regulation, responding instead to economic protectionist fears or subjective and emotional judgments. This is an issue greater than our application, an issue of American leadership in technology, innovation, and science-based regulation,” said Stotish.

Sen. Begich press release

Letter from Senators

House of Representatives letter (pdf)

AquaBounty Technologies statement (pdf)