FDA mulls genetically-modified salmon

A chinook salmon leaps through white water

TEXT OF STORY

BILL RADKE: Consumer and environmental groups will be watching the Food and Drug Administration this weekend. The FDA could -- for the first time -- approve a genetically-modified animal.

From Oregon Public Broadcasting, Rob Manning reports on this experimental fish.


ROB MANNING: A company called Aqua Bounty wants to grow Atlantic salmon faster and bigger. They plan to do that by injecting genes into Atlantic salmon eggs from king salmon and a fish called an eelpout.

Former Aqua Bounty consultant, Val Giddings, says the hybrid fish is cheaper to raise.

VAL GIDDINGS: Cutting time to the market in half and reducing feed requirements by 10-20 percent -- those are significant gains that don't require further explanation.

But environmental groups worry the fish would wreak havoc with the West Coast's dwindling salmon populations. Giddings says the GMO salmon would be kept away from the wild population in closed pens.

Fisheries economist Astrid Schulz with Oregon-based Ecotrust says fish have escaped from farms in the past. She says scientists commissioned by the FDA singled out GMO salmon as a species to be concerned about.

ASTRID SCHULZ: Their genes that are engineered to accelerate growth, could compete more successfully for both food and mates than wild salmon.

More broadly, environmentalists say that going from engineering crops to modifying animals raises big ethical questions. At the very least, environmental and consumer groups want labels on GMO fish.

But industry consultant Val Giddings says the fish doesn't need a label, because it's safe to eat.

GIDDINGS: It's very easy to make an emotionally-appealing argument "consumers have a right to know." Consumers have a right to accurate information, and not to be misled and have false fears raised.

Giddings and Schulz agree that the FDA will likely approve modified salmon. But officials say it's at least 18 months before they'll get to market.

In Portland, I'm Rob Manning for Marketplace.

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