Groups sue FDA over genetically engineered salmon

Groups sue FDA over genetically engineered salmon
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A coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations is suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over its approval last year of genetically engineered (GE) salmon.

The coalition, which is represented by legal counsel from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, is challenging FDA’s claim that it has the authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 

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The group, which includes the Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, and Friends of the Earth, argued that those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock, not to entirely address new GE animals.

GE animals that escape or are accidentally released, they said, can pass along their altered genes to the next generation, threatening wild populations.

In November, the FDA approved AquaBounty Technologies’s AquAdvantage salmon as safe to eat.

In its approval, the FDA only allowed the salmon, which are genetically engineered to grow faster, to be raised in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. Though the tanks have barriers to prevent their eggs from escaping into the environment, FDA said the fish are reproductively sterile.

The group’s lawsuit, however, accuses FDA of failing to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. 

“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,” George Kimbrell, the plaintiff’s co-counsel, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said in a news release.

“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.”

Though FDA’s approval opens the door for the first-ever GE fish to be sold to consumers, the groups criticized the agency for failing to require appropriate product labeling, leading Congress to call for mandatory labeling in the 2016 spending bill.