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Environmental groups say the FDA has not sufficiently analyzed the risks of allowing GE salmon, such as cross-breeding. (Photo: Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/flickr/cc)

Groups Sue FDA Over 'Unlawful and Irresponsible' Approval of Frankenfish

'This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish.'

Nadia Prupis

A coalition of environmental, consumer, and fishing organizations on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approving the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) animal for commercial sale and consumption—an Atlantic salmon, known colloquially as the "Frankenfish."

The lawsuit (pdf), filed by the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, and other groups, states that the FDA does not have the authority to regulate GE animals and that approving the salmon paves the way for other GE fish, as well as farm animals like chickens, cows, and pigs, which the coalition says are currently in development.

The administration has previously claimed it did have the power, under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which was crafted to ensure safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock.

"FDA's decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible," said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety and one of the attorneys 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."

The salmon, which is being engineered by the biotechnology firm AquaBounty, was approved in November despite widespread outcry from advocates who said the fish pose too many risks to public health and the environment to authorize. The company plans to manufacture the eggs on Prince Edward Island in Canada, then ship them to laboratories in Panama, where they will be grown to full size.

From there, they will be sent to the U.S. for sale and consumption.

The journey in total comprises about 5,000 miles.

The Center for Food Safety and other groups threatened at the time to file an "emergency lawsuit" against the FDA for the move.

As Common Dreams reported:

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.

"FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape," Brettny Hardy, an attorney for Earthjustice and another of the coalition's counsels, said Thursday. "We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard."

"We are talking about the mass production of a highly migratory GE fish that could threaten some of the last remaining wild salmon on the planet," Hardy said. "This isn't the time to skimp on analysis and simply hope for the best."


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