U.S. group: FDA ignored GM salmon warnings


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
October 27, 2010

Nonprofit organization Center for Food Safety (CFS) on Wednesday claimed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration knowingly withheld documents that show genetically modified (GM) farmed salmon do, in fact, pose a risk to the environment.

The group said it obtained a federal biological opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that prohibits the use of transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“This adds further evidence that in fact [GM] salmon pose a serious threat to marine environments and is another compelling reason for the FDA not to approve the fish for commercial use,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based CFS. “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.”

The document, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, challenges claims by AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass., the developer of the GM salmon, that the fast-growing farmed fish pose no threat to marine environments. AquaBounty’s salmon is engineered with growth genes from Pacific salmon and ocean pout, a type of eel. 

(Click here to read an interview with Dr. Ron Stotish, CEO and president of AquaBounty.)

According to CFS, the Biological Opinion issued by FWS and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 expresses concerns that transgenic salmon would threaten and adversely affect wild Atlantic salmon, currently on the Endangered Species List. 

Federal agencies are required by Section 7 of the ESA to consult with fisheries agencies when any action may impact a protected species. As part of the consultation, the agencies draft a biological opinion explaining under what circumstance the proposed activity would not endanger the survival of the protected species.

The biological opinion here analyzed the authorization of net pen salmon aquaculture and required: “The prohibition on the use of transgenic salmonids at existing marine sites off the coast of Maine” in order to “eliminate the potentially adverse disease and ecological risks posed by the use of transgenic salmonids in aquaculture.”

After a September hearing on the matter and widespread objection from consumers, retailers and industry representatives, the FDA opted to delay the approval process for GM salmon, after issuing a preliminary ruling that the fish was safe to eat and that it does not differ substantially from conventional forms of farmed salmon.

“Today the public gains much needed insight about the risks of GE fish. We hope that FDA will take heed,” added Kimbrell. “We strongly oppose the approval of these genetically engineered salmon and urge FDA to reject this application.”

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