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Hallerman Promotes Genetic Engineering Awareness


   

Eric Hallerman on Capitol Hill Eric Hallerman (far right) presents the commentary on genetically modified foods to more than 100 legislative staffers and officials on Capitol Hill.


Feb. 15, 2012 – Eric Hallerman, head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, discusses the use of genetically modified animals in food production, a hotly debated issue, in a commentary recently published by the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology, a nongovernment organization that informs elected officials and the public on emerging issues in agriculture. The goals of genetic engineering include improving animal health against disease, creating products for human therapeutic use, and developing animal models for research.

The commentary evaluates the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process for approving the production of genetically modified animals. Hallerman and his colleagues highlight many concerns, notably the lack of sufficient plans to handle a possible breach of containment by a genetically modified animal. Overall, however, the commentary concludes, “forgoing access to [genetic engineering] technology may jeopardize future access to improved genetic lines resulting from new technological developments.”

“Genetic engineering is highly controversial, and rightly so,” said Hallerman. “But some of the arguments being put forward are nonsense. In writing the commentary, we wanted to lay out what is scientifically based and what is not.”

The commentary uses AquAdvantage Salmon by AquaBounty Technologies as a case study. This genetically modified salmon has the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. The FDA is soon expected to approve it for limited-scale production, which would constitute the agency’s first approval of a genetically modified animal for food.

As part of the promotion for the commentary, Hallerman gave three talks in Washington, D.C., over the summer. “There is a great need to educate congressional staff, federal officials, and others about the issues regarding genetic engineering of animals,” he said. Despite obstacles, Hallerman is confident that “the production of genetically engineered animals will become commonplace. It will, however, require effective confinement of the animals for species where escape and interbreeding with wild populations is at issue.”


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