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FDA considering genetically altered salmon

Aug. 23, 2010 at 10:58 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- A genetically engineered salmon that reaches market weight in half the usual time could help solve worldwide food shortages, a Massachusetts company says.

AquaBounty Technologies Inc., of Waltham, is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for a salmon that can grow to 8 pounds in 18 months rather than the usual 36 months, the Chicago Tribune said Monday.

If approved, it would be the nation's first commercial genetically modified food animal.

"This is the threshold case. If it's approved, there will be others," said Eric Hallerman, head of the fisheries and wildlife sciences department at Virginia Tech University. "If it's not, it'll have a chilling effect for years."

The FDA has completed reviews on key elements of AquaBounty's application and could make a recommendation about the salmon's fitness as a human food within a few weeks, the report said.

Modification of food products such as corn and wheat are commonplace, but the idea of a genetically modified fish is raising some concerns.

"The thought of genetic engineering sort of excites the idea that there might be a kind of boundary-crossing going on that might be yucky," said Paul Thompson, an agricultural ethicist at Michigan State University.

Some critics of the modified salmon are in the fish-farming industry, the report said.

"No! It is not even up for discussion," said Jorgen Christiansen, director of communications for Oslo-based Marine Harvest, one of the world's largest salmon producers.

In an e-mail, Christiansen said consumers would be reluctant to buy genetically modified fish "regardless of good food quality and food safety."

AquaBounty said it developed the fish by inserting part of a gene from an eel-like creature called the ocean pout into the growth gene of a Chinook salmon, then injecting the blended genetic material into the fertilized eggs of a North Atlantic salmon.

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