AquaBounty began seeking American approval in 1995
By Rick MacInnes-Rae, CBC News
Posted: Nov 27, 2013
What seemed like a step towards approving the world’s first genetically modified (GM) creature for human consumption a few days ago actually “doesn’t change anything,” according to a spokesman for AquaBounty Technologies, which has been trying to bring a transgenic salmon to market for years.
Last week, the company got permission from Environment Canada to ramp up production of salmon eggs from research levels to greater commercial quantities.
But there’s no reason to do that unless it gets permission from Health Canada to bring the product to market in this country, and more importantly, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which would open the door to the vast American market.
And the latter is as elusive and puzzling for the company today as it was when AquaBounty began seeking American approval in 1995.
“Eighteen-plus years” said AquaBounty’s David Conley with a joyless chuckle. “It’s a moving target. We just have no idea.”
The company’s fortunes have occasionally suffered because of it, sometimes scrambling for backing from financiers briefly including the flamboyant KakhaBendukidze, Georgia’s former economy minister, who once put the country’s entire infrastructure on the block declaring “everything can be sold, except its conscience and honour.”
AquaBounty has submitted all the scientific data the FDA has requested of it. And in significant preliminary findings last year, the FDA said approving the AquaBounty fish “would not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment in the United States,” or on American salmon stocks. But then it went and extended the public comment process all over again.
In an email to CBC News this week, the FDA’s Theresa Eisenman said “it is not possible to predict a timeline for when these decisions will be made. The comment period…closed April 25 (2013). The agency will review the public comments before making a decision… on whether to prepare a final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact.”
Seeking approval for the first transgenic food creature was always going to be a cautious process because it’s controversial, and as much about optics and politics, as science and food safety.
That’s because the AquaBounty fish is an Atlantic salmon grown from eggs injected with hormones from the genes of two other sea creatures — the fast-growing Chinook salmon — and an eel-like Ocean Pout. Together, their genes cause the fish to bulk up in a hurry.