Something’s fishy in the FDA

While Rep. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and others are insisting that the FDA, at the very least, label the product, Mark Begich and ten additional senators (as well as 52 groups opposing the product) sent a letter to the FDA demanding it reject the salmon altogether due to insufficient testing on both its consumer health and environmental impacts. Also last week, Peter DeFazio and 28 House members demanded the same.

One of the major reasons these lawmakers have taken a firm stance against the product is that little consideration has been given to its unintended environmental consequences. The FDA has failed to address critical issues surrounding the potential for escaped, genetically engineered salmon to impact wild salmon populations. The agency should conduct an environmental impact statement, required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act, for any regulatory action that could negatively affect the human environment.

The FDA is also “cheating” on how they approve the fish by using a process designed for veterinary drugs — not food products. The FDA’s assessment to determine consumer health risks is largely based on flawed scientific studies and lacks the thoroughness that we would expect from a federal agency deciding whether to approve the first genetically engineered food product. Three of the four studies the agency based its review on were non-peer-reviewed and conducted by AquaBounty, the very company that would benefit from producing the fish. The data collection is rife with serious procedural errors. For instance, AquaBounty’s scientists used only six GE salmon to determine the potential for allergies — a dangerously limited data set — and even this small sample revealed that there was a significant difference in the potential for GE salmon to cause allergic reactions. The company scientists also “unblinded” the fish during the study, making them aware of which salmon were GE and which were not. This is a violation of fundamental scientific method.

The public knows that something’s fishy. Earlier last week, my organization, Food & Water Watch, released a nationwide poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, revealing that the vast majority (78 percent) of Americans oppose the FDA allowing genetically engineered salmon in the marketplace. So why is the FDA still considering approval of the first GE food animal, clearing the way for other corporations to unleash all sorts of additional GE food animals (cows, pigs, trout, and tilapia are already in the works).

In light of insubstantial studies and flimsy science, broad consumer opposition, and formidable resistance in both the House and Senate, it is clear that the FDA should halt its irresponsible approval process. Since, however, the agency persists in recklessly moving towards the historic approval of a potentially dangerous product with far-reaching consequences, it is critical that all of us demand that the administration halt this sham process until both an environmental impact statement is conducted on the salmon’s environmental consequences and independent, long-term testing is performed to prove that GE meat is safe to eat.

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the Food and Water Watch.

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