Canadian scientist thrilled to the gills by U.S....
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Nov 29, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Canadian scientist thrilled to the gills by U.S. approval of genetically modified salmon

After a two-decade wait, the FDA recently approved the AquAdvantage salmon for sale in the U.S. Canadian scientist Garth Fletcher began collaborating with other scientists to create the transgenic fish in 1982

OurWindsor.Ca

He didn’t believe it would happen in his lifetime.

In fact, Canadian scientist Garth Fletcher, 79, didn’t even think his grandchildren would live to see the day when his creation — the world’s first genetically modified fish intended for the dinner table — would be approved for consumption.

That’s why the scientist is still in shock more than a week after an “out-of-the-blue” email landed in his inbox.

It carried the news that, after deliberating since 1995, American regulators had given their blessing to the controversial fish, allowing the U.S. sale of AquaBounty AquAdvantage salmon.

Fletcher began collaborating with other scientists to invent the transgenic animal in 1982. The road to approval has been obstructed by politics and bureaucracy, an ongoing lawsuit launched by Canadian activists, and the constant swell of heartache each time the salmon appeared to be swimming toward deregulation only to be slapped downstream again.

Fletcher, who has no current involvement with AquaBounty Technologies, the company that owns the fish — and who has garnered little publicity for his role in this invention — says he’s thrilled to see his creation get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for food.

Though he parted ways with AquaBounty in 2005, Fletcher, head of the Ocean Sciences Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been quietly rooting for his fish, which grows to maturity twice as fast as non-genetically engineered farmed Atlantic salmon.

He’s been particularly watchful in the five years since U.S. regulators concluded the salmon was safe to eat and posed no threat to the environment, yet still failed to approve it.

“We wondered, what’s going on?” he says. “Are they ever going to say yes?”

AquaBounty spokesperson Dave Conley is thrilled they did. He can’t begin to understand, he says, what took so long or what prompted approval to come down now.

And he doesn’t know whether Canadian authorities will follow suit and allow the fish to be sold and eaten locally. For now, he says, the company is riding the positive wave. “Finally,” he says. “We’re happy.”

So is Fletcher.

Looking back at his history with the fish, Fletcher adopts a tone of academic detachment and calls the journey “interesting” and “a bit of fun,” something that won grant money, got papers published and gave graduate students a raison d’être.

He muses about how and why AquaBounty investors hung on for so long given all the controversy the fish drummed up and fears it would wipe out conventional salmon populations or poison humanity.

Now that it’s approved, Fletcher wonders how the company plans to surmount its next roadblock: getting the fish to market. Some grocery chains have already boycotted the product.

“Well, at least, there’s no human rights issues,” Fletcher says in jest.

More seriously, he adds: “It’s out there now. It’s like having a child born and seeing it as an adult.”

Toronto Star

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