Opposition to genetically engineered ‘Frankenfish’ mounts

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is weighing a proposal from the biotechnology firm AquaBounty Technologies to approve for human consumption its Atlantic salmon eggs, which include a gene that enables them to grow to market size in half the time of a normal salmon. 

The FDA has issued draft findings that the Boston firm’s fish were identical to traditional salmon, safe to eat and won’t cause environmental harm. 

But opponents, who deride the company’s product as “Frankenfish,” have weighed in loudly during an extended public comment period.

In addition to more than 2,300 formal comments — most of which appear to oppose the plan — a coalition of groups said more than 1.8 million people attached their names to an online petition imploring the FDA to deny final approval.

Opponents include public interest and consumer advocates, environmental groups, commercial fisheries and other business interests.

“The fact that the consideration of AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon has gotten this far is a sign of how broken the U.S. current regulatory structure actually is,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!

The groups raised the possibility that the salmon could escape their designated fisheries and move into open water, a scenario that they say would have untold consequences.

“Like FDA's food safety analysis, the environmental analysis leaves many questions unanswered, and includes numerous highly questionable and unsubstantiated assumptions,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union.

Also Wednesday, a group of a dozen senators led by Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska) and 21 house members, including Rep. Don YoungDon YoungAlaska lobbies for defense boost after North Korea launch Puerto Rico statehood bid a total failure Lawmakers move to protect funding for climate change research MORE (R-Alaska), sent letters to the FDA urging officials to withhold approval until all economic, regulatory and environmental concerns are addressed.

The concerns led the agency to extend the comment period, previously scheduled to expire in February, until earlier this week. It is unclear how soon administration will make a final decision on whether to move forward with a final rule.