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Nov 24, 2016

Who’s afraid of Frankenfish?

To celebrate the anniversary of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of our AquAdvantage Salmon for commercial production and consumption, we are posting a series of articles that have appeared over the past year and prior. The following article by Matt Whittaker appeared in the Pacific Standard.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved genetically modified salmon — but the public is still hopelessly confused about the purported risks of GMOs. In October 2014, American late-night host Jimmy Kimmel devoted a portion of one of his monologues to the ostensibly non-hilarious topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Earlier in the year, Consumer Reports found that 72 percent of shoppers think it’s important to avoid GMOs. “How many of you do not want GMOs in your body?” he asked the audience. The enthusiastic applause in response sounded like a resounding “not us!” This was one of those late-night television lead-ins to a video segment designed to see how stupid the average person is, or at least looks, on camera. The show had sent a film crew to a California farmers’ market to ask people why they avoid GMOs. Most of the people who appeared on camera couldn’t say what the acronym stands for and could only indicate a vague sense of unease over genetically modified food — though they couldn’t say exactly why. One man worries about the “vibration with GMOs” (whatever that means) and a woman says, “I know it’s bad, but to be completely honest with you, I have no idea.” Yet the segment — which has more than three million views on YouTube — captured another crucial response to the GMO debate. As one man put it: “I don’t know. So I really don’t care. It doesn’t affect me. I’m not sick. I’m fine.”

A little over a year after the Kimmel segment, the GMO debate entered a new phase. In November, after two decades of review, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically modified animal for human consumption — an Atlantic salmon engineered for accelerated growth by a Massachusetts company called AquaBounty Technologies. In March, a coalition of environmental and fishing groups sued the FDA and other defendants, saying the agency’s environmental assessment wasn’t sufficiently thorough, and that, regardless, the FDA doesn’t have the authority to regulate genetically engineered animals. The government this month filed for an extension on its chance to respond, and the FDA maintains that its review process is rigorous. On Tuesday, AquaBounty filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in the case, citing its interest in the FDA approval being upheld. The company denied that its production facilities in Canada and Panama pose environmental risks and said that the FDA’s review had adequately evaluated potential risks. The motion also maintains that the FDA is authorized to regulate its AquAdvantage salmon as a new animal drug. Read the article.

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