Biotechnology

Is Obama Kowtowing to Anti-Biotech Activists?

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The fish are the same age - guess which one is enhanced

Back in the early days of his administration, President Barack Obama promised that he would not countenance the politicization of science. Specifically the president said:

It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

For the past 17 years, AquaBounty Technologies has been doggedly pursuing Food and Drug Administration approval of its biotech-enhanced salmon. The company's salmon contain two genes, one from a fish called a pout and another from Chinook salmon that enable them to grow twice as fast as wild salmon while consuming 10 to 25 percent less feed. In addition, the company plans to produce only triploid (three sets instead of the normal two sets of chromosomes) females that are sterile.

The Genetic Literacy Project has just released FDA documents showing that way back in April that the agency had concluded that the Aquabounty fish posed no health or environmental problems and should be approved. Specifically the FDA noted:

With respect to food safety, FDA has concluded that food from AquaAdvantage Salmon is as safe as food from conventional Atlantic Salmon, and that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from triploid AquaAdvantage Salmon…

Based on the evidence collected and evaluated by FDA, FDA has made the preliminary determination that it is reasonable to believe that approval of the AquaAdvantage Salmon NADA will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment in the United States (including populations of endangered Atlantic salmon) when produced and grown under the conditions of use for the proposed action.

Over at Slate, Jon Entine, head of the Genetic Literacy Project, is reporting that White House officials afraid of backlash from anti-biotech and environmental activists may have told the FDA to set on its findings until after the election. Slate reports:

But within days of the expected public release of the EA [environmental assessment] this spring, the application was frozen. The delay, sources within the government say, came after meetings with the White House, which was debating the political implications of approving the GM salmon, a move likely to infuriate a portion of its base.

It's ridiculous that it's taken this long for the regulatory process to reach the conclusion that the product is safe for consumers and the environment. Now we will get to see if the president will keep his promise that his adminisration will "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

Go here to read the whole article in Slate.

Disclosure: I loathe the taste of salmon, but I promise to eat one of these as soon as they come onto market.