A panel of scientific experts has begun two days of hearings in Washington to decide whether a genetically modified salmon – dubbed the ‘Frankenfish’ – should be approved for human consumption.
The US Centre for Food Safety is calling on consumers in other countries, including Australia, to speak out, but even opponents of the proposal concede that approval is likely.
AquAdvantage Salmon – an atlantic salmon that has a growth hormone from a chinook salmon and DNA from the eel-like ocean pout – has spent years in development.
Dr Ron Stotish has been pushing the case for the fast-growing genetically-modified fish for 15 years.
His company argues that the fish is a more sustainable food source and looks and tastes like any other salmon.
He says the AquAdvantage Salmon can reach a weight of two kilograms in less than 500 days, as opposed to nearly 700 days for an unmodified fish.
The plan is to produce fish eggs on Prince Edward Island, Canada and farm the fish in Panama for marketing to US consumers.
It is a highly sensitive case for the US Food and Drug Administration.
Its own scientists have declared the fish safe to eat and they say it is not a threat to the environment.
But a separate scientific panel has convened for two days of hearings in Washington and critics are lining up.
They say they are concerned about unintended consequences and more rigorous studies need to be carried out.
Jaydee Hanson, an analyst with the US Centre for Food Safety, says he worries about the modified fish escaping and threatening the viability of already endangered wild salmon.
He is also highly critical of the FDA’s closeness to the biotech industry.
“They’re doing for biotechnology what our Department of Interior did for the oil industry, which is approving whatever they want,” he said.
Other concerns centre on the risk of allergic reaction and what a green light might mean for other projects in the works, including genetically modified trout, pigs, and cows resistant to mad cow disease.
Mr Hanson concedes that approval for the fast-growing salmon is now likely and he is calling on consumers in Australia and other countries to support calls for special labelling, which the biotech industry argues would only confuse consumers.
“If people demand labelling, the FDA will find a way to label it,” he said.
“If we don’t get enough folks speaking out in enough other countries saying ‘we don’t want this unless it’s labelled’, the FDA will say ‘don’t label’.”
The scientific panel is expected to hear arguments for and against labelling tomorrow.