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BIOSAFETY EXPERT NAMED TO NRC BIOTECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE.

Eric Hallerman, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences at Virginia Tech, has been appointed to serve on the National Research Council's Standing Committee on Biotechnology, Food, and Fiber Production, and the Environment. The National Research Council is the principal operating unit of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

The Academies draw upon leading scientists, engineers, and professionals to advise the nation on issues of scientific and technical importance. Hallerman's appointment recognizes his "high quality of work in the field and his ability to contribute to a broader discussion of the issues surrounding biotechnology," said Academies chairman Michael T. Clegg. Hallerman was asked to serve on the committee because of his expertise in the field of genetically modified fish. The committee will review the scientific issues pertaining to plant, animal, and microorganism biotechnology as they apply to public policy, food, and fiber production, agriculture, and the environment. "Transgenic Atlantic salmon could soon be the first commercially produced food product derived from a genetically modified animal," Hallerman said.

According to the ISB News Report, "Transgenic Atlantic salmon produced by A/F Protein Inc. (Waltham, Mass.) grow four to six times faster than non-transgenic salmon and exhibit a greater than 20 percent improvement in feed conversion efficiency. The company has 10,000 to 20,000 transgenic salmon in indoor tanks at three facilities in the Canadian Maritime provinces. "A/F hopes that these fish will become the broodstock for producing eggs for commercial aquaculture in Canada, New Zealand, Chile, and the United States. However, commercialization of this path-breaking product faces a number of stumbling blocks. Against the background of both favorable and unfavorable reports in the popular media, the anticipation of a key regulatory decision, and actions against production of transgenics by certain salmon producers, the commercialization of transgenic salmon is proving contentious."

Commercialization of transgenic salmon in the United States will depend upon regulatory approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which must approve the marketing of any products derived from animal biotechnology. An FDA decision on approval of the A/F transgenic salmon is expected in the near future. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine is regulating the transgenic salmon expressing an introduced growth hormone gene as a new animal drug. Hallerman explains, "This means that transgenesis is being regarded as a means for delivering growth hormone to the tissues of the fish; hence, regulatory approval of the A/F salmon will depend on rigorous demonstration that the transgenic salmon are safe to eat." Approval of marketing transgenic salmon would constitute a "significant federal action posing impacts to the environment," the fish geneticist said.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FDA must consider biosafety issues posed by commercial production of the transgenic salmon. Ecological concerns include competition of transgenic stocks with wild populations, introgression of the transgene into wild gene pools, heightened predation of transgenics on prey populations, and a range of other possible impacts.

"Because ecological concerns are site-specific," Hallerman added, "the sites where transgenic fish are reared, as well as the level of confinement in production facilities may need to be controlled. Any level of confinement other than absolute containment in indoor, recirculating aquaculture systems will have to be assessed for specific sites." "Commercialization of transgenic fish also faces issues of consumer and commercial acceptance," Hallerman said. "A number of salmon producers' groups feel that growing public distrust of genetically modified foods can create a potential marketing problem for the salmon industry."

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Publication:Industrial Environment
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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