Genetic Tinkering For Bigger Catch

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Now there's a new gene-altered first: fish genetically altered to grow bigger and more rapidly. Its developers hope to soon take this out of the lab and into the food chain to consumers' dinner table.

CBS News' Wyatt Andrews reports for Eye on America on a gene-food controversy on a whole new scale.
Elliot Entis' Canadian-based fish farm, A/F Protein, may be the first to get Food and Drug Administration approval to market a transgenic animal - an animal genetically composed of two different fish.

He shows off his mixed-species technology: salmon genetically altered - with a gene spliced with another fish species - so that they grow twice as fast.

"We have simply changed one gene in the salmon," Entis boasts.

And if Entis has his way, you'll be eating this gene-altered salmon and trout sometime within the next two to three years.

"Basically we've taken a snippet of DNA from another edible fish, either a winter flounder or a commonly found fish called an ocean pout, and we've matched that snippet to the salmon's growth hormone," Entis explains.

And growth means money. Entis says his fish can reach market size in 18 months, instead of three years, with the same taste and nutrition as their farm-raised kin.

"We are, I have to say, 100 percent certain that this is safe," Entis says.

"We know exactly what the gene which we have inserted of that genetic instruction expresses or produces in the salmon. We know and can prove that it only produces salmon growth hormone," Entis adds.

There is no law against mixed-species animals, but A/F Protein will have to prove these fish are safe to the FDA.

And there is one major environmental concern. What happens when these big voracious salmon escape from the farm - and there is no doubt they will - and then begin to breed with salmon in the wild?

"The risk is genetic pollution," says Rebecca Goldburg, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense. "If you muck up the gene pool of wild salmon by introducing the genes of farm salmon, you can make the wild salmon population less able to survive and reproduce in the future."

Entis responds that wild Atlantic salmon are in danger already. He argues that without this technology, there will be no way to meet consumer demand.

"We can produce more protein more cheaply for more people than would otherwise be the case," Entis argues.

So now, quietly, farmers are crossing the line from cross-bred animals to mixed-species animals and arguing that this kind of low-level mutation is what it will take to feed the world.

Read Andrews' report on the controversy over regulation of genetically altered fish.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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