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California Backs off on
Frankenfish Ban

The Associated Press
August 29, 2002

State regulators decline to formally ban engineered fish
By: PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer

OAKLAND, Calif.

California regulators declined Thursday to become the first state to
formally prohibit fish farmers from introducing genetically engineered fish
into public waterways, insisting a "de facto ban" already exists.
Officials with the state Department of Fish and Game said they have not
received any applications from "aquaculturists" to use the contentious
biotechnology to grow fatter fish faster - nor would they grant any permits
for some time.

A consortium of environmental activists and commercial fisheries, fearful of
what the engineered creatures could do if released into the natural habitat,
had asked the Fish and Game Commission for a two-year ban. The moratorium is
needed to allow enough time to research the consequences engineered fish
will have on the environment, they argued at a commission meeting in
Oakland. An influential Food and Drug Administration report recently
released by top scientists concluded engineered fish that escape into the
wild pose a significant risk to natural species, either through cross
breeding or depleting food supplies.

The FDA is currently considering Waltham, Mass.-based Aqua Bounty Farms
Inc.'s application to sell engineered Atlantic salmon that grow to market
size twice as fast as unmodified salmon. An FDA decision on the application
isn't expected for more than two years as the company still needs to conduct
environmental safety tests.

Though Aqua Bounty doesn't intend to raise any of its modified salmon in
California, company executive Joseph McGonigle attended the meeting Thursday
to voice his opposition to the ban.

McGonigle said Aqua Bounty's salmon will ultimately be regulated by several
federal and state agencies before it reaches market.
Department Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup said the agency has those same
environmental concerns and is reviewing its current regulations to see if
they need updating. Currently, the regulations don't specifically mention
genetically engineered fish, which are spliced with genes from other fish
species.

Still, Mastrup told the commission a moratorium was superfluous.
"We are not going to consider any application until this issue is resolved,"
he said.

The zebrafish is the only genetically engineered fish is allowed to be
raised in California, and it is grown exclusively for research purposes. The
proposed moratorium would have excluded research labs such as one at the
University of California, San Francisco from any ban.
The commission agreed to forgo a moratorium Thursday and instead ordered the
department to report back to it in October about how long a review of its
regulations would take.

At least one commissioner, though, appeared to support a ban.
"There is a clear and present danger of transgenic fish impacting our
environment," said Robert Hattoy, citing the FDA's report. Hattoy, who was
sworn in as a commissioner Thursday, agreed to wait until the October
meeting to reconsider the ban.

Meanwhile, a bill banning transgenic fish from California waterways for two
years passed the Senate and was pending before the California Assembly,
which could vote on the bill anytime before it recesses this weekend. The
bill will die if the assembly fails to vote on it by the recess.

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