Obama Administration Snubs Risks, Set to OK 'Frankenfish'

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Common Dreams

Obama Administration Snubs Risks, Set to OK 'Frankenfish'

'Obama Administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product'

by
Common Dreams staff

A genetically engineered AquAdvantage Salmon (background) alongside an Atlantic salmon of the same age (foreground). (Photo/Reuters)

The US Food and Drug Administration said Friday that a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal salmon is 'unlikely' to harm the environment, clearing the way for the first approval of a scientifically engineered animal for human consumption.

The environmental assessment concludes that the frankenfish “will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States.” The regulators also said that the fish is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon, a key concern for environmental activists.

The nonprofit Center for Food Safety sharply criticized the FDA’s assessment, calling the decision “premature and misguided.”

“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama Administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product. The GE salmon has no socially redeeming value; it’s bad for the consumer, bad for the salmon industry and bad for the environment.  FDA’s decision is premature and misguided.” executive director Andrew Kimbrell said in a statement.

“We need a robust regulatory system that puts environmental, human health, economic and animal welfare risks first,” said Kimbrell. “Putting a GE animal on the path to consumer use without proper safeguards and with no mandatory labeling requirement proves that the system FDA has in place gives us none of that.”

The FDA will take comments from the public on its report for 60 days before making it final.

If the salmon are eventually approved for sale, consumers may not even know they are eating them.The FDA said more than two years ago that the fish 'appears to be safe' to eat, but the agency had taken no public action since then. Executives for the company behind the fish, Aquabounty, speculated that the government was delaying action on their application due to push-back from groups who oppose genetically modified food animals.

Experts view the release of the environmental report as the final step before approval.

If FDA regulators clear the salmon, as expected, it would be the first genetically altered animal approved for food anywhere in the world.

Critics call the modified salmon a “frankenfish.” They worry that it could cause human allergies and the eventual decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild. Others believe breeding engineered animals is an ethical issue.

Countries in the European Union have banned some genetically modified foods outright and instituted tight labeling requirements on foods that contain modified ingredients. Countries such as Russia, Japan and Peru also have instituted restrictions on genetically altered foods.

The New York Daily News reports:

If the salmon are eventually approved for sale, consumers may not even know they are eating them. According to federal guidelines, the fish would not be labeled as genetically modified if the agency decides it has the same material makeup as conventional salmon. AquaBounty says that genetically modified salmon have the same flavor, texture, color and odor as the conventional fish, and the FDA so far has not shown any signs of disagreeing.

Wenonah Hauter, director of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said forgoing labeling not only ignores consumers' rights to know what they are eating, but "is simply bad for business, as many will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered."

Hauter urged members of Congress to block the impending approval of the fish. Congressional opposition to the engineered fish has so far been led by members of the Alaska delegation, who see the modified salmon as a threat to the state's wild salmon industry.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Friday she is working to convince fellow senators that approval for the fish should be stopped.

"This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations," she said of the preliminary approval.

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