Playing Politics: Political Pitfalls for Animal Biotechnology

Farmer Gene

This year’s BIO Livestock Biotech Summit featured a session called Political Pitfalls for Animal Biotechnology. Moderator Dr. Cathleen Enright, BIO’s Executive Vice President of Food & Agriculture, told attendees that the biotech industry needs to tell our story and acknowledge the political factors that we face in order to drive innovation and bring new products to the marketplace.

“We must be able to trade products containing or derived from a new technology or that technology will die,” said Dr. Jim Murphy, retired assistant United States Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs. He added that it’s absolutely critical to pay more attention to the public views of new technology, and it is a responsibility to explain new technology and its benefits to the public.

Dr. Jim Murray, a professor at University of California-Davis, detailed the history of genetically-engineered (GE) animals pointing a finger at the way our regulatory system works. “Lapses of clear science-based policy ultimately leads to lapses of science-based review – it becomes politically viable,” Murray said.

Murray added that no GE products have been approved for food anywhere in the world and noted three primary factors leading to limitations in the use of transgenic animals: a long regulatory timeframe, activist opposition in the absence of science or clinical data showing problems, and a lack of funding primarily resulting from the first two factors scaring off investors.

“GE livestock, poultry and fish will be necessary to feed the world in the future,” Murray concluded.

Dr. Ron Stotish of Aqua Bounty rounded out the panel outlining the troubles his company has had in seeking approval for their AquAdvantage Salmon. In September of 2010, after many years of assessments, the FDA concluded their product is an Atlantic salmon, and is as safe to consume as food as any other Atlantic salmon. It also found that AquAdvantage Salmon represents no significant risk to the environment under conditions of use in their application. More than two years after those findings and public meetings, no government agency will tell them the status of the application.

Stotish quoted Dr. Calestous Juma of Harvard University giving his take on the situation: “It is not this particular fish that is at stake. It is the principle behind the amendment and its wider ramifications. It sends the message to the rest of the world that the science-based regulatory oversight as embodied in the FDA review process is subject to political intervention.”

The panel really focused on the fact that science-based assessments, not political factors, should play a role in advancing new technology.

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