The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may soon approve the sale of genetically engineered (GE) salmon to American consumers. Incredibly, the FDA may do so without requiring that the fish be labeled as genetically engineered.
Marion Nestle, a professor in the Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health Department at New York University has said, “The public wants to know and the public has a right to know. I think the agency has discretion, but it’s under enormous political pressure to approve [the salmon] without labeling.”
Misleading Shoppers as a Sales Strategy?
Wild salmon delivers tremendous nutritional benefits, but the possible action by the FDA could lead shoppers seeking healthy food for their families to unknowingly buy a GE substitute. Scientists have cautioned that there has been insufficient study of its impact on human health and the environment.
The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists states on its web site:
“So far, scientists have identified a number of ways in which genetically engineered organisms could potentially adversely impact both human health and the environment…In addition to posing risks of harm that we can envision and attempt to assess, genetic engineering may also pose risks that we simply do not know enough to identify.”
After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch received numerous recent internal documents and emails from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) exposing startling concerns about the GE salmon for which the company AquaBounty is seeking approval.
“Nice work Greg,” Denise Hawkins, PhD, FWS Regional Geneticist wrote to a coworker in September. “Especially pointing out that there is no data to support the claims of low survival in the event of escape, which I agree with you all is a big concern. I also agree…that using triploid fish [which AquaBounty claim have undergone a sterilization process] is not foolproof. Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park.”
A Very Real Threat to Wild Salmon
The FDA is required by law to conduct an environmental impact statement for any regulatory action that could negatively affect the human environment. The agency has not done so yet. Despite AquaBounty’s claim to produce only sterile salmon, the company admitted that up to 5% of their GE salmon eggs could be fertile, prompting the FDA to label the company’s claims “potentially misleading”.
According to FWS internal emails, contrary to AquaBounty’s claims that GE salmon would be grown in closed systems (and therefore unable to escape), FWS employees received news of a proposal to grow the fish in a facility that would discharge into the ocean off the coast of Maine.
“No matter what precautions you take, fish escape and once they do, there is no closing that door. So, that being said, I think it is very bad precedent to set,” said one FWS program supervisor.
The FDA is closing a public comment period on November 22nd and could approve the product as soon as November 23rd.