The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday approved the sale and consumption of genetically modified (GM or GMO) salmon, delivering a big win to the biotech industry and ignoring long-held concerns by environmental and public health advocates who say the "Frankenfish" pose too many ecological risks to authorize.
"FDA has not acted in good faith with the American people. Rather than informing the public, FDA's announcement appears to be intended to minimize public awareness."
—Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety
At least one consumer advocacy group announced immediate plans to sue the FDA over its approval of AquaBounty's GMO salmon, which is now set to become the first genetically engineered food animal in the world.
"The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS). The organization was left with no other choice, he added, "but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant."
Conservation group Food & Water Watch also called on President Barack Obama to overturn the FDA's approval.
For years, critics have warned that GMO salmon threaten wildlife populations, particularly through the potential for cross-breeding. Indeed, just a day before the FDA's announcement, a coalition of environmental groups sued the Canadian government for approving AquaBounty's request to manufacture the salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island (PEI) and ship them to laboratories in Panama, where they will be grown to adult size.
The plaintiffs in that case said the government ignored its own scientific findings to approve the bid, after the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported in May that GMO salmon were more susceptible to disease-causing bacteria and had other inconsistent performance issues.
On Thursday, environmental advocacy groups also slammed the FDA for what they say was an inadequate amount of safety testing and attempts to hide the evaluation process from the public.
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"This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition," said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director. "The FDA is supposed to protect public safety, yet the agency's environmental review was done in the form of an environmental assessment instead of a more thorough environmental impact statement that would fully consider the threat this controversial new fish could pose to wild fish populations and ecosystems."
Kimbrell added, "The review process by FDA was inadequate, failed to fully examine the likely impacts of the salmon’s introduction, and lacked a comprehensive analysis. This decision sets a dangerous precedent, lowering the standards of safety in this country."
Moreover, Hauter pointed out, the fish would be hitting the shelves without labels identifying them as GMO products.
"Not only does this ignore consumers' fundamental right to know how our food is produced, it is simply bad for business, since many consumers will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered," she said.
In 2013, approximately two million people filed public comment with the FDA opposing its consideration of approval—the largest amount of comments the agency has ever received, according to CFS.
"FDA has not acted in good faith with the American people," Kimbrell said Thursday. "Rather than informing the public, FDA's announcement appears to be intended to minimize public awareness."