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California Won't Formally Ban Transgenic Fish

September 2, 2002

California Won't Formally Ban Transgenic Fish

Thu Aug 29, 2002

By PAUL ELIAS

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - 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. [OCA Editor's note: The bill did not pass out of the Assembly committee. Therefore, it will have to be reintroduced in the Fall in BOTH the State Senate and Assembly.]

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