California Considering Ban on Genetically Engineered Salmonby Don Thompson, Associated Press
Environmental News Network, March 7, 2002
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California may impose the nation's toughest restrictions on genetically engineered salmon, even before the federal government decides if it should be the first transgenic animal approved for human consumption.
Measures restricting the sale or production of the fish are pending in both state Legislative chambers, though the nearest salmon farming is in Washington's Puget Sound because conditions in California are not suitable.
Fishers and environmental groups say genetically engineered salmon who escape from their enclosures could harm the West Coast's already dwindling native populations. They cite studies by Purdue University and others showing that so-called "superfish" — altered to grow larger and faster — could have a competitive advantage for food, mates, and habitat.
But Joseph McGonigle, vice president of Waltham, Mass.–based Aqua Bounty Farms Inc., said that's not possible since only sterile females would be used. Unlike sterile males, escapees would not attempt to go to river breeding grounds and spawn so there would be no behavioral competition.
McGonigle's company, which has transplanted a gene that makes salmon grow to full size in half the usual time, has been trying to get Food and Drug Administration approval for its fish since 1996. He said the FDA should be ready to decide by 2004.
A bill pending in the California Senate would be the nation's toughest, banning the import, transport, possession, or release of transgenic fish in the state, with violators fined up to $50,000. California supermarkets and fish markets — but not restaurants — would have to label genetically modified fish under another pending bill.
Maryland's first-in-the-nation law last year permits farming of genetically modified fish in ponds or lakes that don't connect to other waterways.
Natasha Benjamin of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, the research arm of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said fishers are concerned about the prospects of transgenic fish. "There's always a chance that they could escape and be fertile and breed with native fish," Benjamin said.
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