Surprise: FDA Panel Unable to Reach Conclusion on Genetically Modified Salmon

Some FDA panel members say salmon science is insufficient.

ByABC News
September 20, 2010, 12:56 PM

Sept. 20. 2010 -- After two days of hearings, several members of an 11-member advisory panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that there are not yet sufficient data to determine that a genetic modification that enables salmon to grow twice as quickly is safe for the affected fish or for consumers.

The panel, made up of outside experts, did not vote or make a recommendation on whether to approve these fish for human consumption, after holding today's public hearing to determine whether genetic engineering is safe for the fish; whether the fish are safe to eat; whether the fish actually do grow faster; and the potential environmental impacts the production of these fish could pose.

AquaBounty Technologies, the company that hopes to get the modification approved, faced considerable criticism from a number of consumer and scientific advocacy organizations at the hearings.

The genetically altered salmon eggs include a growth hormone gene that cause them to reach full size in about half the time it takes regular salmon to reach the same size.

Ron Stotish, the CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, said after the hearing that the committee misinterpreted much of the data and got confused by the "enormous" amount of data presented to them during the hearing, which lasted more than eight hours.

FDA Documents released before the hearings also indicated the fish are safe, and one FDA scientisttestified to that earlier today.

"In conclusion, all of the data and information we reviewed ... really drive us to the conclusion that AquAdvantage salmon is Atlantic salmon, and food from AquAdvantage salmon is as safe as food from other Atlantic salmon," said Kathleen Jones of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

But several of the technology's opponents attended the hearing to urge the FDA not to approve the eggs, accusing the FDA of relying on shoddy science when they did their initial review and determined the fish to be safe.

"The FDA is relying on company data from only a handful of fish," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. "Such flimsy science isn't good enough to assure the public that this product is safe to eat.

Donald Prater of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, visited AquaBounty Technologies and helped gather data for the agency's intiial review. He testified earlier today that the safety study included some fish that were selected based on certain characteristics, but said they were comparable to normal salmon in terms of health problems. He also said the fish would require additional monitoring to determine whether the growing conditions could cause additional health abnormalities.