The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally approved AquBounty Salmon on Thursday, November 19th. This marks the first ever Genetically Modified (GMO) animal approved for consumption by the United States Government. This was a historic step in the right direction--opening the door to a world of potential new innovation with far ranging benefits to consumers. These benefits include the development of cheaper, healthier foods and medicines, the environment, and the economy. The potential applications of Genetic Engineering are innumerable.
As exciting as this news is, the FDA has already set this technology back decades through twenty years of regulatory nonsense. There is no scientific reason to believe transgenics or RNA interference (methods of creating a GMO) entail any more danger than mutagenesis, selective breeding, chemically induced polyploidy, or any other breeding method--many of which have been used for thousands of years! In fact, the use of modern technology to target selected genes is much less likely to result in harmful mutations to people or the environment. Currently the FDA only requires “safety” testing for transgenics and RNA interference. This stands in stark contrast with all other breeding methods, which are eligible for USDA “Organic” Certification without any oversight or review process regarding the breeding method.
AquAdvantage, the company behind the development of AquBounty Salmon was forced to undergo incredible, direct compliance costs. They were also forced to forgo revenue for the new product for two decades! The fact that they were ultimately able to bring this product to market is a testament to the strength of human spirit and the power of market forces to drive innovation in the face of fear-driven, government barriers. Still, the opportunity costs the FDA has imposed by restricting development to products and companies which can withstand such costs is staggering, but difficult to detect. Furthermore, these restrictions generate monopoly rents for the few companies, like Monsanto or AquAdvantage, that can overcome these barriers. This concentrates wealth and power and further inhibits the process by which competition lowers prices, improves productivity, and delivers life saving or improving innovations to market.
In addition to creating a two decade long, potentially billion dollar compliance process, the FDA has restricted the raising of AquBounty Salmon to two facilities and has banned production through natural breeding of these salmon on the basis of fear and ignorance. These restrictions, which are designed in theory “to prevent ecological impacts from the Salmon escaping into the wild,” will further drive up costs both for the producer and ultimately consumers. At the same time, the USDA provides a multi-billion dollar subsidy to “organic” alternatives, which are less sustainable, more expensive, and have no discernible benefits.
Disclosure: Jason Weinman holds no position in AquaBounty Technologies, or any related firm/s.