Foes of engineered salmon appeal to Obama to halt FDA approval
P.E.I.-based scientists who developed fish say they are safe for consumers
By Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia NewsSeptember 17, 2010
The pioneering work of a small group of Canadian scientists hit the gates of the White House Thursday, as opponents of genetically engineered salmon set out to block the fish from becoming the first GE animal approved for human consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. already declared earlier this month that salmon engineered in Prince Edward Island using technology developed at Canadian universities with funding from Ottawa's granting councils are as safe to eat as other Atlantic salmon.
With three days of hearings by the FDA to begin Sunday to consider questions of safety and labelling, opponents gathered in front of the White House and outside of AquaBounty Technologies Inc.'s Canadian facility in Bay Fortune, P.E.I., to tell the U.S. and Canadian governments to keep GE salmon out of the food supply.
Independent observers say the FDA's safety declaration earlier this month is a strong indication that AquaBounty's application will be approved.
Canadian opponents worry the federal government will simply follow the lead of the FDA because Health Canada has indicated the government accepts the approach of the American regulator when it comes to GE animals. In Washington, consumer groups pressed President Barack Obama to step in and stop the approval of the AquAdvantage Salmon, made from eggs produced at the company's hatchery in P.E.I., that grows twice as fast as regular salmon.
The groups said the GE salmon have not been proven safe for human consumption and will threaten the wild salmon population.
"It's looking like the FDA will approve the salmon in the next few days unless consumers speak out to stop them," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "The clock is ticking, which is why we're calling on the Obama administration to halt the process before this science experiment ends up on our plates."
In Bay Fortune, islander Leo Broderick, vice-chairman of the Council of Canadians, said he's attending the U.S. hearings because they "could have a big impact on P.E.I. and Canada, and I think someone from Canada and [the] Island should be there. If the U.S. approves GE salmon, P.E.I. could soon become known around the world as the home of Frankensalmon," Broderick said.
The Canadian scientists involved in different stages of the project say consumers need not worry.
Peter Davies, Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering at Queen's University, never set out to contribute to the making of fast-growing GE salmon, but his collaboration in the early 1980s with Garth Fletcher, a fish biologist at Memorial University, and Choy Hew, formerly of Memorial and University of Toronto and now at the National University of Singapore, became a building block that has become the flashpoint for today's debate about genetic tinkering with animals.
"The growth hormone experiments were really dramatic. When they got the initial results that some fish were growing so much faster, that was dramatic and really quite surprising. And once that happened, you sort of knew that it was a home run, but it would be a matter of time before the regulatory processes could handle that kind of development. As you know, it's really been a long and tortuous and very careful process," said Davies, who has no health concerns about the GE salmon.
"I think it's fair enough to be careful of where you produce these fish just because you don't want to have them escape or affect the natural population. It's very important we protect our natural population. For consumption, it's really not a problem. I certainly wouldn't have any problem eating these fish," Davies said.
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