GE Salmon

Lisa & Ian Murray seamus at
Tue Oct 17 17:35:08 PDT 2000

full article

Paris, Wednesday, October 18, 2000 Biotech Salmon Tests U.S. Regulatory Net Faster-Growing Fish / Environmental Mischief?

By Marc Kaufman Washington Post Service

FORTUNE, Prince Edward Island - Amid the winding coves and family farms that grace this northern island sits an unassuming, dimly lit warehouse. Inside, dozens of large plastic tubs roil with fish as water pumps hum and the smell of the ocean fills the air. It is a decidedly low-tech spot, but a technological revolution is under way. The first animals genetically engineered for American dinner plates are being raised here: salmon spliced with genes that make them grow two to four times faster than nature's best.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing an application to sell the fish, a decision that is likely to influence the fate of scores of other biotech animals being brought to life in dozens of similar labs around the world for humans to eat.

Pigs engineered to have less fat, chicken designed to resist illness-causing bacteria, beef that can grow twice as fast on less feed - they are all in the pipeline. Advocates say animal biotechnology can supply abundant food at increasingly low cost.

But with opponents of genetic engineering already questioning whether soybeans and corn endowed with new genes are safe for people and the environment, the prospect of a genetically engineered animal has sparked intense controversy. Opponents call the salmon ''Frankenfish'' and question the ethics of implanting genes from one animal species into another. The salmon is economically unnecessary, they argue, and could wreak havoc with the environment by outcompeting endangered wild salmon.

''This has gotten so much bigger than we ever imagined,'' said Arnold Sutterlin, an aquaculture specialist with A/F Protein Inc., an American-Canadian company that is producing the salmon. ''We just thought we were making a better fish.''

The company says there is nothing mysterious about what it is doing, and has been unusually public about its efforts and plans. A steady stream of scientists, government officials, even tourists tramp through the warehouse.

To create the salmon, scientists spliced into their eggs a growth gene from the Arctic pout, a fish that thrives in very cold water. That gene allows the salmon to act like a colder-water fish, which means its growth promoter genes remain more active than a normal salmon's. That could be a boon to fish farmers because their salmon would be ready for market earlier, and would grow on less food.

But even usually sober scientists worry that not enough is known about such fish to risk the damage that their release into the wild could cause. And some researchers argue that conventional crossbreeding of fish can achieve many of the same results as genetic engineering, with fewer risks.

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