Following Stotish’s explanation regarding the fragmented regulatory process, Begich expressed some sympathy. Pointing to Alaska, he said “the regulatory process is enormous and the amount of agencies that have to sign off is pretty significant.”

However, Begich said there is a great difference between the FDA regulating a drug and a GE animal. “When you’re (looking) at a drug, it isn’t a whole environment you’re about to touch. … The FDA is very good at approving drugs. Maybe they take a long time, but they’re good at it. Once approved, you’re talking about individual consumption, not a whole environment.”

As an example of unintended environmental consequences, Begich lamented the impact released voracious pike have had on an Alaskan lake near where he lives.

Leonard argued that the question isn’t whether there is a regulatory structure in place to deal with the GE salmon. “There certainly is. The question is whether it addresses what we, as a society, want it to address. I think the answer is ‘no.’”

Leonard said the new animal drug provisions within the coordinated framework of the FDA “were developed before the concept GE animals for human consumption was on the table. In that sense, they’re outdated with respect to that particular issue.”

Much of the resistance to GE salmon “is because of the secretive nature” of the regulatory, deliberative process. Stakeholders and the public, he said “have not been part of the process from the beginning” leading to a lack of trust and understanding.

Greenberg mined the same vein, saying when he tells those outside government that the FDA is the ultimate approving agency for GE animals, “they can’t believe. They just can’t believe it. It just reeks of not going a direct and honest pathway. I understand there must be bureaucratic reasons why it’s happening. But from outside the government perspective, it doesn’t feel right.”

Begich agreed that the government “isn’t very good about keeping pace with technologies as they move forward. We’re always trying to catch up with (information technology) and telecom issues. … We kind of scratch the back end of it as it moves to the next phase. But with food products, it’s a step we have to be very careful of.”

On the argument that GE salmon will allow America to compete with China, Greenberg was dismissive. “Do we really want to hold up China a beacon for environmental regulation to aspire to? Moreover, if this fish does get developed” he is optimistic “it will end up in China one way or another. If they can steal our stealth fighter, they can get a hold of (GE salmon). I’d rather us be a country that says ‘no’ to that kind of risk. Let someone else take the risk and we’ll have better fish because of it.

“One of the great markets for Alaskan salmon has traditionally been Asia because they don’t have what we have. If we really want more salmon in America, let’s not sell 70 percent of our Alaskan salmon abroad.”

Leonard, who acknowledged AquaBounty’s “forthrightness in the information provided today,” was more concerned with the broader issue of the government’s GE animal approval and applications to come. “The question is less about this individual application … and more about whether we have a system in place that will allow us to deal with the next application to come down.”

And what about liability? If harm from GE animals occurs “who is responsible?” asked Leonard. “It’s a legal question not a scientific one. But it’s an issue that hasn’t been addressed at all and is worthy of consideration.”