WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday to prohibit the Food and Drug Administration from approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption.
The FDA is set to decide this year whether to approve the modified fish, which grows twice as fast as the natural variety. The FDA said last year that the fish appears to be safe to eat but an agency advisory panel said more studies may be needed before it is served on the nation's dinner tables.
If the salmon is approved, it would be the first time the government allowed such modified animals to be marketed for human consumption. It was created by a Massachusetts company, AquaBounty, which says its fish is safe and environmentally sustainable.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, offered an amendment to a farm spending bill late Wednesday that would prohibit the FDA from spending money to approve AquaBounty's application. The amendment was approved by voice vote. Young argued that the modified fish would compete with wild salmon in his state. Other critics have labeled the modified salmon a "frankenfish" that possibly could cause allergies in humans and eventually decimate the wild salmon population.
AquaBounty has added a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce their growth hormone all year long. The bioengineers were able to keep the hormone active by using another gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that acts like an on switch for the hormone, according to the company. Conventional salmon produce the growth hormone only some of the time.
The FDA has appeared favorable toward the engineered fish, saying there are no biologically relevant difference between the engineered salmon and conventional salmon and there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from its consumption. The agency is also considering whether the fish needs to be labeled as modified.
Approval would open the door for a variety of other genetically engineered animals, including a more environmentally-friendly pig that is being developed in Canada or cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease. Each would have to be approved by the FDA.
The House is expected to pass the farm spending bill later this week. The Senate has not weighed in on the issue.