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5-Animals: GE fish bring hope and problems



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TITLE:  Modified fish bring hope, problems
SOURCE: The Washington Times, USA, by Tom Ramstack
        http://washingtontimes.com/business/20030201-76570656.htm
DATE:   Feb 1, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Modified fish bring hope, problems

Bioengineered fish create hopes of abundant food and medical benefits,
but also bring environmental risks, experts said yesterday at a Capitol
Hill forum.

Scientists have altered the genes of the fish to grow more quickly so
they can be harvested and used for food. However, the Food and Drug
Administration is examining whether they could mix with natural
populations of fish, wipe out their habitats and permanently alter other
species through interbreeding.

"We all agree these are questions that must be answered," said Elliot
Entis, president of Aqua Bounty Farms, a Waltham, Mass., biotechnology
company.

The company is developing genetically modified salmon, trout and tilapia
eggs to sell to industry. The salmon, for example, can reach maturity in
three months, compared with one year for salmon with naturally occurring
genes.

In January, the Pew Initiative on Food and Technology warned against
developing genetically modified fish before the environmental hazards are
better understood and controlled. The Pew Initiative is a nonprofit
biotechnology research organization that hosted the Capitol Hill forum
yesterday.

A study released by the group said government regulators lack expertise
and proper procedural rules to assess the risks of genetically modified fish.

"Regulators will increasingly have to stretch their authority to make old
laws and regulations address the evolving next wave of products," said
Michael Rodemeyer, the Pew Initiative's executive director. "We seem to
be treading in uncharted legal waters."

Bioengineered fish are regulated under FDA rules developed before
scientists introduced genetic engineering.

FDA officials say their current regulatory scheme is adequate for
bioengineering. Genetic modification changes the structure and function
of animal physiology, which is essentially the same as a drug. As a
result, it gets regulatory review similar to a new drug.

Applicants for FDA approval must prove their genetic modifications would
not harm other animals or the environment.

Aqua Bounty Farms' application for genetically modified Atlantic salmon
is pending before the FDA. The company plans to submit an environmental
risk assessment in the spring.

The Pew Initiative report said if the FDA institutes better review
procedures, the benefits of genetically modified fish outweigh the risks.

An altered form of tilapia could be a source of Factor VII, a compound
used to clot human blood for hemophiliacs. Fish also could be made more
disease-resistant to increase their supplies for the commercial market.
Shrimp could be developed that do not prompt allergic reactions in humans.

The salmon being developed by Aqua Bounty Farms are leaner and could be
produced in supplies great enough to bring down the cost of the fish on
world markets, Mr. Entis said. The company plans to develop sterile
female salmon to avoid the risk they might interbreed with natural salmon
if they escape from their ocean pens.