(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2012) More than one year after petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to complete a mandatory environmental impact statement on the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) fish intended for human consumption, Earthjustice has submitted a letter on behalf of its co-petitioners urging the agency to meet its obligation promptly. The letter points out that FDA is prohibited from acting on the application to raise and release into commerce genetically engineered salmon until the agency has completed a comprehensive environmental risk assessment on the fish. Earthjustice filed the petition on May 25, 2011 along with Ocean Conservancy, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Greenpeace. In addition to reminding FDA of its obligation to complete the risk assessment, the petitioners also ask the agency to improve its process for reviewing these kinds of applications to commercialize GE animals to address environmental threats and public concerns at a much earlier stage.
FDA has held off on taking decisive action on the application from Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, which has been seeking approval to sell its GE salmon product in the U.S. for more than a decade. Unlike natural salmon raised in aquaculture net pen systems, the AquaBounty GE salmon grows throughout the year and reaches market weight in 18 months instead of 36, while consuming 25% less food over its lifetime. AquaBounty’s GE Salmon was developed by inserting part of a gene from an Ocean Pout, an eel-like fish, into the growth gene of a Chinook salmon. The blended genetic material is then injected into the fertilized egg of a North Atlantic salmon. When FDA first announced its intent to approve the application in the fall of 2010, the public sent more than 400,000 comments in opposition.
Earthjustice attorney Khushi Desai said, “The citizen petition was filed to ensure that the FDA conducts a careful, comprehensive, and open review of the many significant environmental risk questions raised by this first-of-its-kind application.” Mr. Desai added that, “It is unacceptable that a full year has passed and we still have no answers and absolutely no insight into the agency’s consideration of these risks.”
The disclosure in December 2011 that salmon at AquaBounty’s Price Edward Island, Canada production facility had tested positive for infectious salmon anemia (ISA) in 2009 has heightened concerns of unforeseen consequences should GE salmon production win approval. The ISA is thought to have entered the facility through eggs and/or smolts brought in for increasing the experimental population. “The need for a full environmental impact statement has only become more urgent in light of recently revealed information showing that Aquabounty’s egg facility had previously been infected with infectious salmon anemia,” said Eric Hoffman, food and technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “The fact that the presence of this disease was found in the company’s own facility and was concealed from the public is unacceptable and irresponsible. Proper environmental review would look at these and other environmental risks, and would provide an opportunity for the public to provide input into this precedent-setting decision.”
Beyond Pesticides believes that genetically engineered food is shortsighted, dangerous and unnecessary. Organic production practices, which explicitly prohibit the use of genetic engineering and any materials derived from such practices, offer a preferable alternative for meeting the world’s growing demand for food, while simultaneously protecting natural resources. For more information on Genetic Engineering, see our program page.
Source: Center for Food Safety
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.