Fishing, consumer groups sue FDA over GE salmon

Published on
March 31, 2016

A broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today, 31 March, for approving AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the complaint alleges that the FDA did not have proper authority to approve GE salmon last November. In addition, the organizations filing the complaint believe GE salmon could escape and contaminate wild fish stocks. Lastly, the groups say the FDA should require mandatory labeling of GE salmon.

“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish – harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”

An FDA spokesperson reached by SeafoodSource declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“As a matter of policy, the FDA does not comment on potential or pending litigation,” the spokesperson said.

The FDA approval of GE salmon “marks the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption,” according to the coalition of plaintiffs. The organizations filing the suit include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands, and Center for Food Safety.

“FDA's regulatory system for ‘animal drugs,’ such as veterinary antibiotics, is not appropriate for whole, genetically engineered animals. We need appropriate regulations for new technologies and applications,” Dana Perls, food and technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., told SeafoodSource.

In addition, when FDA approved GE salmon, it only considered AquaBounty’s current facilities in Canada and Panama. “Given AquaBounty's intentions to expand facilities for GE salmon in the U.S., FDA should have studied the risk of escape and contamination of other salmon runs as well,” Perls said.

A major complaint that the groups address in the lawsuit is the fact that FDA does not require labeling of GE fish in supermarkets or restaurants.

“We support the mandatory on-package labeling of all GE food, so that all people can make their own choices about what goes on their dinner plates,” Perls said. “Consumers have been clear they don't want to eat GE salmon; therefore, more than 9,500 grocery stores will not sell GE salmon, regardless of FDA's approval.

Major grocery chains such as Costo, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have said they will not sell GE salmon when it becomes available in around two years.

The organizations filing the complaint also claim that the FDA did not evaluate risks to wild salmon and the environment as well as fishing communities, including the risk that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks.

Contributing Editor

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