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AGRICULTURE REPORT - January 28, 2003: Genetically Engineered Salmon - 2003-01-27

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A number of companies are expected to seek approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to produce genetically engineered animals. However, a recent report questions whether the F-D-A can supervise the production of such animals.

For example, Aqua Bounty Farms is a company based in Waltham, Massachusetts. It has developed a kind of salmon that grows much faster than natural salmon. It will be among the first companies to seek F-D-A approval for a bio-engineered fish.

Many environmentalists oppose the fast-growing salmon. They fear that such fish could endanger natural salmon if they escape into the wild.

A public policy group, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, released a new study on the issue. The study says the F-D-A may not be able to legally supervise bio-engineered fish under existing law. The F-D-A has said current laws permit it to supervise foods and drugs. A top administrator says that should be enough. Current law considers the genetically engineered salmon to be a “new animal drug.”

Yet, the F-D-A may not be able to ban a bio-engineered animal if it is a threat to the environment. The report says this is a weakness in the current food and drug laws. It also presents another legal possibility. The F-D-A’s power to supervise such animals as “drugs” could be cancelled in the courts.

Aqua Bounty Farms has made many details of their research public. However, the company has done more than the law requires. Current food and drug laws make the approval process for genetically engineered animals secret. The secrecy protects the rights of companies that develop the new animals. However, it also prevents public comment on the new animals.

The report raises other questions as well. It says that the F-D-A may not have the resources to supervise animals that are genetically engineered to be used as food or to produce drugs. The resources of the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Fisheries Service may be needed for effective supervision.

The Pew Initiative report does not oppose genetically engineered animals. It says there could be good results from such animals. But there also could be risks. The report is meant only to suggest possible legal problems in supervising production of these animals.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.