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November 17th, 2010

GE Salmon: The FDA’s Tug at Nature

A Food & Water Watch-initiated FOIA request yielded disturbing e-mails from scientists at FWS, expressing their concerns about GE salmon.

The Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir once warned, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” Those words are certainly appropriate to call upon now.

November 22, just three days before many of us sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, is the FDA’s deadline for public comments on the approval of genetically engineered salmon. (Technically, it’s the deadline for comments regarding whether or not GE salmon should be labeled — it should — but let’s not go down that road until we’ve made a much bigger point.) We’ve reached a critical juncture in this roller coaster-like process, which is why our latest letter to the FDA is so timely and so very interesting.

Recently, a Food & Water Watch-initiated FOIA request yielded documents with rather disturbing e-mail comments from scientists at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), expressing their concern with GE salmon, including one from a scientist who wonders if anyone at the FDA has seen the film Jurassic Park. They are not exactly happy with the way the FDA has been tugging at nature and they weren’t shy about identifying FDA’s procedural gaffs.

This all comes a week after the Center for Food Safety revealed that the FDA withheld critical information about GE salmon, which Care 2′s Beth Buczynski describes here.

The FOIA documents contained critical e-mails describing various missteps in the FDA’s approval process. It seems that the FDA was supposed to be collaborating with FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — a requirement under the Endangered Species Act — to determine how GE salmon would impact wild Atlantic salmon. But it’s unclear, at least to people at FWS, how exactly the two agencies are supposed to engage. And the FDA has not yet conducted a full environmental impact statement, which they are required to do according to the National Environmental Policy Act. If you’re going to tug at nature, shouldn’t you take a detailed look at what might happen?

Some rather telling quotes were fished out of the FOIA documents, which any concerned consumer should read in full. A program supervisor from FWS submitted this comment, for example:

“I think the uncertainty of what will eventually happen to a species if genetically altered animals mix with “native” stocks, is reason enough to oppose this… Fish escape, and once they do, there is no closing that door…I think it is very bad precedent to set…”

The requested FOIA documents also revealed a potential plan to grow GE salmon in a facility that would discharge off the Maine coast into the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps, the greatest environmental concern about GE salmon is the possibility that these fish will pollute the gene pool of endangered wild salmon. AquaBounty has claimed that its products are designed for contained, land-based growing systems. While that may be true, they cannot control the growing environment of customers who would purchase their GE salmon eggs. If a growing facility were to discharge into ocean water, GE salmon’s environmental threat would be realized. Tug.

The information pulled from the FOIA request again points to an approval process that, at the very least, is extremely flawed. Again, we find evidence that the FDA has been carelessly acting on behalf of industry at the risk of consumer and environmental safety. Approval of GE salmon could lead us down a dangerous path that we cannot undo.

Before we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, we should make every effort to weigh in on the approval of GE salmon. Here are some recent concerns we’ve discovered about GE salmon…

1. As late as last month, the FDA had not adequately consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — a requirement under the Endangered Species Act —to determine how AquaBounty’s salmon might impact wild, endangered Atlantic salmon.
2. FWS scientists have questioned AquaBounty’s data on sterilization. Up to five percent of GE salmon eggs could be fertile.
3. FWS scientists have questioned FDA’s data regarding fish escapes.
4. FWS was made aware of a proposal to grow GE salmon in a facility that would discharge into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Maine.
5. The FDA withheld critical information about GE salmon during approval hearings.

Most consumers polled do not support the approval of GE salmon, yet the FDA is focused on bringing it to market quickly. The comments from FWS scientists suggest that the FDA is being careless with nature and they don’t seem to be listening to the warnings of environmental experts; only the encouragement from the biotech companies like AquaBounty to keep tugging.

-Rich Bindell

This could be your last chance to tell President Obama to stop the FDA from approving GE salmon.

One Comment on GE Salmon: The FDA’s Tug at Nature

  1. Jon Newgard says:

    Please do further testing and consult with fish and wildlife service and national marine fisheries service before bringing ge salmon to market. If ge salmon goes to market it should be properly labeled as such.

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