Conservation groups watching modified salmon

Photo from Associated Press — This undated 2010 handout photo provided by AquaBounty Technologies shows two same-age salmon, a genetically modified salmon, rear, and a non-genetically modified salmon, foreground. Salmon that’s genetically modified to grow twice as fast as normal could soon show up on your dinner plate — if the company that makes the fish can stay afloat. (AP Photo/AquaBounty Technologies) NO SALES

Several conservation groups led by Trout Unlimited are questioning a recent decision by federal health regulators that says a genetically modified salmon is unlikely to harm the environment.

The fish are genetically altered Atlantic salmon containing an extra growth hormone gene that allows them to grow to marketable size about twice as fast as conventional fish, enabling commercial fisheries to increase profitability and bring salmon to market in 18 months versus the traditional 30 months.

Trout Unlimited said it questions federal approval of this fish and calls it “a premature ‘green light’ for the eventual production of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption.”

“First, we want to ensure that threats to wild salmon populations from genetically engineered salmon are understood and completely prevented, both for the protection of economically vital commercial salmon fishing industry and the growing recreational salmon fishing sector,” Trout Unlimited national spokesman Chris Hunt said.

“Second, we want to ensure that a more detailed environmental impact review isn’t the more appropriate process for this issue rather than a simple FDA environmental assessment, which is far less thorough (and, frankly, is the FDA the correct agency to analyze environmental impact?).”

Hunt also said Trout Unlimited wants to ensure “an effective regulatory framework exists so that impacts to wild fisheries and aquatic ecosystems are prevented.”

A recent Associated Press report said critics of the so-called “Frankenfish” say it could result in the eventual decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild.

Hunt said scientists with Trout Unlimited are reviewing the environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact to see whether an adequate analysis of potential threats has been completed by the agencies with expertise in aquatic ecosystems.

If the salmon are eventually approved for sale, consumers may not even know they are eating them. According to federal guidelines, the fish would not be labeled as genetically modified if the agency decides it has the same material makeup as conventional salmon.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Friday she is working to convince fellow senators that approval should be stopped.

“This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations,” she said.


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