Washington State Bans Biotech Fish

March 3, 2003

2 Min Read
Washington State Bans Biotech Fish

Washington State Bans Biotech Fish

OLYMPIA, Wash.--The Washington Fish and WildlifeCommission (WFWC) adopted new rules governing marine finfish aquaculture in thestate. Washington is the first state to adopt such a policy, part of whichdisallows growers from using transgenic varieties.

Under the new rules, which went into effect in January, marinefinfish growers must receive prior approval of the species, stock and race ofmarine fish to be grown. The rules specifically prohibit growers from usingtransgenic fish in their operations, with "transgenic" being definedas the actual transfer of genetic material from one species to another. Theserules are intended to allow Washington's small aquaculture industry--worthapproximately $40 million annually, according to WFWC (www.wa.gov/wdfw)--tocontinue operating in state waters while protecting the state's naturalresource.

In addition to the transgenic fish ban, the new rules alsorequire growers draft and submit a fish escape prevention plan, escape reportingplan and escape recapture plan. These plans must be submitted and approved bythe commission before a marine finfish aquaculture permit can be approved.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Initiative on Foodand Biotechnology, the science of transgenic fish is promising, although theFood and Drug Administration (FDA) may not be equipped to regulate thetechnology. In a January press release, the Initiative stated its report--FutureFish: Issues in Science and Regulation of Transgenic Fish--deemed the newanimal drug application process adequate for empowering FDA with legal authorityand risk management tools as far as food safety concerns go, although FDA is notequally empowered to address environmental and ecological concerns.

"Although the regulatory review system currently in placehas been adequate for those biotechnology products that are already on themarket, the introduction of genetically modified fish raises questions aboutcapacity," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the PewInitiative. "Regulators will increasingly have to stretch their authorityto make old laws and regulations address the evolving next wave of products. Weseem to be treading in uncharted legal waters."

Aside from safety concerns, the Pew Initiative report also notedthere is no official guidance for the federal government to review transgenicfish. The Initiative stated FDA's review process may not allow necessary publicparticipation, and the agency may not have the expertise, authority or resourcesnecessary to comprehensively review transgenic fish.

"Both the industry and the public crave clarity,"Rodemeyer said. "Without a clear and transparent road map for regulation,not only is it difficult for developers to bring new products to market, it isalso hard for the public to trust that a careful consideration of risks andbenefits is taking place before--not after--new products come to market."

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