Friday, December 21, 2012

Frankenfish: FDA Clears The Way For Approval Of GE Salmon, Calls For Public Comment

Public has 60 days to comment; if approved, fish may be sold without GE label...
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday released a draft environmental assessment related to the agency’s review of an approval application for AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically engineered Atlantic salmon.  FDA found that "an approval of this application, under the specific conditions proposed in the application, would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment." That clears the way for the salmon to be greenlit as the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption.  It has been the subject of two years of controversy, with protests from critics who have dubbed it "Frankenfish."  (Above, protesters outside the White House in 2010)

FDA will take comments from the public on its report for 60 days before making it final.

Created by AquaBounty Technologies of Maynard, Mass, the salmon grows twice as fast as non-GE farmed Atlantic salmon, thanks to the insertion of a growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that enables the fish to produce growth hormone year round. The hormone is kept active by the use of another gene from the Ocean Pout, an eel-like fish.  This gene acts like an "on" switch for the growth hormone, according to the company.

FDA first indicated it would greenlight the GE salmon two years ago, but has taken no action since. Critics and activists are concerned that the GE salmon will cause human allergies as well as decimate the wild salmon population if it escapes from fish farms and breeds in the wild.  More than forty members of Congress previously urged FDA to conduct more rigorous review of the environmental and health impact, and FDA previously received nearly 400,000 comments demanding it reject AquaBounty's approval application.

"By releasing an environmental assessment instead of a more thorough environmental impact statement, the FDA failed to fully consider the threat this controversial new fish could pose to wild fish populations," said Winonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch in a statement on Friday.

If approved, the GE salmon may require no labeling to note its modification with the genes of other fish.

"Not only does this ignore our fundamental right to know what we are putting on our plates, it is simply bad for business, as many will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered," said Hauter.

Consumers Union also weighed in on FDA's report, rebuking it as "flawed and inadequate."

"The FDA has found that the salmon is safe to eat.  However, we are deeply concerned that the potential of these fish to cause allergic reactions has not been adequately researched," said Michael Hansen PhD, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union. "FDA has allowed this fish to move forward based on tests of allergenicity of only six engineered fish—tests that actually did show an increase in allergy-causing potential."

“We are further concerned that consumers will in many cases not have any way to avoid this fish if they want to.  While salmon is required by law to be labeled as to country of origin in supermarkets, this does not apply to fish markets or restaurants.  While in supermarkets consumers could avoid fish from Panama, where this salmon will be grown, they will not have this ability when eating out or buying at a fish store,” Hansen said.

UPDATE, Dec. 28:  CLICK HERE to read a Forbes report on the ethics "fiasco" behind the decision

*AquaAdvantage Salmon Draft Environmental Assessment {PDF}

*AquAdvantage Salmon Preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact {PDF}

*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama