US Considers First Genetically Modified Animal for Food

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Farmers in the United States have grown genetically engineered crops since the late nineteen nineties. Now, a federal agency is deciding whether to let a genetically modified animal into the food supply for the first time.

A company, AquaBounty Technologies, has developed the AquAdvantage Salmon. The fish is an Atlantic salmon that contains genes from two other kinds of fish: ocean pout and Chinook salmon.

With these genes, it can grow twice as fast as a wild Atlantic salmon. The company says the fish does not taste or smell any different from other salmon.

The Food and Drug Administration says there would be no need for special labeling if the salmon is found to have the same basic contents as other fish. But critics say the genetically changed salmon is different from other fish. They say if the FDA approves it for sale, people should be told what they are buying.

Americans eat mostly imported seafood. Last year that included a billion dollars worth of imported salmon, one of the top imports.

Most of the wild salmon caught in North America comes from Alaska. That state banned farmed salmon from its waters years ago.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich is leading a group of other United States senators, organizations and businesses to try to stop the FDA approval process.

Wenonah Hauter of the activist group Food and Water Watch says the AquAdvantage Salmon has not been studied enough for food safety.

WENONAH HAUTER: "Why are they using three studies with very small samples that the data is not available to the public, and one of the studies is nineteen years old?"

Ms. Hauter worries that the farmed fish could escape into waterways and reproduce with wild populations. And she says the idea could spread to other countries.

WENONAH HUNTER: "We know there are fish farming operations in China, in Asia, that are very interested in this, that have a poor record regarding regulation. And we're very concerned that there will be escapees."

But the company says most of its fish are raised at inland fish farms. And it has promised the Food and Drug Administration that it would only market female salmon unable to reproduce.

David Edwards at the Biotechnology Industry Organization says the genetically modified fish is "just a new technology."

DAVID EDWARDS: " "As the public has the opportunity to learn about it and the public has the opportunity to taste it, I think it’s something that they’ll appreciate. If the FDA says it's safe, and the data certainly does indicate that, then I'm certainly willing to go out and eat the fish."

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with Steve Baragona. What are your thoughts on this subject? You can post comments at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Jim Tedder.

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