Genetically Engineered Salmon Nears FDA Approval

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The eggs will be made in a lab on Prince Edward Island, and the fish will be harvested in Panama, according to a May AquaBounty report published by the FDA last week. Although the study said the fish pose no environmental risk, it noted that up to 5 percent of the fish could be fertile even though they're engineered to be sterile females.

There's also some concern that the fish could cause more food allergies, bloggers and activists have said. But Steve Taylor, a food science and technology professor at the University of Nebraska, said it's unlikely.

People allergic to fish are allergic to a protein called parvalbumin, which is required for fish muscle function, Taylor said, adding that because being allergic to fish means being allergic to all fish, it's unlikely that the AquaAdvantage fish would be any different. People allergic to the fish protein will also to be allergic to AquaAdvantage even if there's more parvalbumin in it than in other breeds.

"The only thing you need to worry about with genetically modified food is that there is a novel protein that's not present in other forms of salmon," he said. "Does that unique protein have an allergenic potential? With the salmon, that's not a concern because that's what they looked at very carefully."

But Patty Lovera, the assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit food activism group, said the testing has been largely conducted by AquaBounty, the company behind the genetically engineered fish, and that testing has only been reviewed by the FDA, which she said isn't good enough. She thinks the FDA should conduct its own studies because she is concerned that engineering across species will create an unforeseen mutation that could be harmful to consumers.

But Taylor said the producer should be held responsible for its own studies to keep FDA costs reasonable, and the FDA should review those studies.

"It's the FDA's responsibility to make sure they did a darn good job, and that's exactly what I think happened here," he said.

Still, Schaffner said the public will be afraid of what has been labeled the "Frankenfish" and opposed no matter how many studies and study reviews are conducted.

"There's definitely an emotional counterpart," Taylor said. "It's hard to stay focused on the safety assessment and the science and whether the stuff is good for us or not."

The Biotechnology Industry Organization was not available to comment on lobbying for genetically engineered food and safety.

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