Despite poll after poll reflecting strong public opposition, the Food and Drug Administration plans on approving AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon. When approved, AquaBounty’s GM “Frankensalmon”will be the first genetically engineered animal destined for human consumption.
And as is the case with all genetically modified food sold to the unwitting public, the FDA will not require GM salmon to be labeled. The FDA claims that since there’s no material difference between GE fish and farm-raised fish, they aren’t required to be labeled separately.
By not requiring GM food to be labeled, the FDA is withholding critical information from consumers, depriving the public from being able to make an informed choice.
“It is against the law to withhold from the public information that’s material,” says Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And I think information about whether animal foods are genetically engineered is highly material to all kinds of people.”
In fact, “consumers sent nearly 400,000 public comments to FDA demanding the agency reject this application and require mandatory labeling of this transgenic salmon should it decide to approve it”.
California Vows to Label FrankenFish
Well it seems Californians, known for their health conscious predilections, are fired up. In early May, the California Assembly Health Committee approved a bill [AB 88] requiring that all GMO salmon sold in California contain clear and prominent labeling.
“Knowing whether our salmon is genetically engineered is important for a host of reasons, including risks to our native salmon species, and allowing consumers to make dietary choices consistent with concerns they may have for the environment, food safety, and religiously or ethically based dietary restrictions,”said Assemblymember Jared Huffman, in explaining the reason for introducing the bill.
Since California has always been a trendsetter in environmental and food safety laws, the passage of the this bill may ultimately have a tremendous impact on FDA federal labeling policy regarding GM food.
According to the bill’s language, AB 88 “would provide that food is misbranded if the food is a genetically engineered fish or fish product, as defined, and its labeling does not conspicuously identify the fish or fish product as genetically engineered,”
RGB, an online publication dealing with global environmental issues, points out that the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a co-sponsor of the bill, and other groups applauded the Health Committee’s decision for protecting the public’s right to know how their food is produced.
“The FDA has indicated that it will not require these GE fish to be labeled once they are approved,”said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety. “As such, it is incumbent on the California State legislature, starting with the Health Committee, to let the people of California make informed choices about the food they eat by requiring the labeling of GE fish sold in California”
Wide Support Among Many Groups
Supporters of the legislation include the California State Grange, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action California, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Commercial Fishermen’s Organization of Morro Bay, Crab Boat Owners Association, Food & Water Watch, Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Sierra Club California, Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association and South Yuba River Citizens League.
“Passing AB 88 will send a strong message to legislators nationwide that consumers in California are concerned about genetic engineering of animals,” said Marie Logan of Food and Water Watch. “The owner of the company producing GE fish has even admitted publicly that labeling the fish would be tantamount to banning it” so our work is cut out for us”
The Center for Food Safety claims 40 Representatives and Senators have requested the Food and Drug Administration halt the approval of AquaBounty transgenic salmon.
“Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) led 29 Members of the House of Representatives in asking the FDA to halt the approval process of AquaBounty GE salmon in a letter to FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg”
“It is clear that California consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it’s made, and if it has been genetically engineered,”explained James Ferro, Policy Analyst for Ocean Conservancy’s aquaculture program. “This bill empowers California consumers to vote with their wallets when it comes to genetically engineered seafood”
Limited and Inadequate Research
And how does the FDA — whose approval panel is comprised mostly of GM cheerleaders — know there’s no difference between GM fish and farm-raised fish? The FDA knows because AquaBounty’s researchers told them so.
The FDA’s anticipated approval is based exclusively on the limited and inadequate studies conducted by AquaBounty Technologies.
Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist with Consumers Union, says fish are one of the top five foods people are most allergic to and the sample size used in the [AquaBounty] testing was far too small” six fish in all to determine whether consumers could be allergic. “They need more data on the allergy question, and I think most any allergy scientist would say the same thing,”said Hansen.
In addition to the allergen problem, there’s evidence that AquaBounty’s GM salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, as well as more antibiotics.
In addition to human health concerns, genetically modified salmon are a potential threat to naturally wild Atlantic salmon currently on the Endangered Species List.
That’s why it’s illegal to house transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
However, in recent hearings on transgenic fish, the FDA knowingly withheld a Federal Biological Opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibiting the use of transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
“While the FDA applauded the company’s choice of land-based containment as responsible, it never revealed that it is illegal in the U.S. to grow genetically engineered salmon in open-water net pens,”said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.
The documents released by Center For Food Safety (CFS) also include an email from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
“Shortly after the Atlantic salmon was listed as endangered, several of us from USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] and NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] spent 2 days down in Maryland meeting with Aqua Bounty and FDA about development of genetically modified salmon and discussion around the need for FDA to engage in Section 7 consultation with the Services. We never heard a peep out of FDA or Aqua Bounty after that”
Some experts claim GM salmon pose far too great a risk to wild salmon because of unstable DNA. “Once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these GM fish remain sterile. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits.”