Fishy Food: FDA May Approve Genetically Engineered Salmon

Wild Chinook salmon swim upriver to spawn in central California. AquaBounty engineered a Chinook gene into Atlantic salmon to produce a farmed fish that reaches market weight twice as fast. The GE fish awaits FDA approval. - Photo by PSR USFWSDespite strong public opposition, and no documented demand, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears to be drawing closer to approving the first food product from a genetically engineered (GE) animal. For a decade, the agency has considered various applications for use of the technology. In December, FDA announced a “Finding of No Significant Impact” in its assessment of the controversial application by AquaBounty Technologies to market its AquAdvantage transgenic salmon in the United States.

Approval of AquaBounty’s application would clear the way for the first GE animal to enter the marketplace for human consumption. If GE salmon is approved, meat from other GE animals—including pigs and cattle—will likely follow. It is imperative that the full impacts of genetically engineering food animals be considered now, because the public may not receive notification of future applications of the technology in the food supply. Moreover, consumers will be unable to identify and avoid GE products at stores and restaurants because there will be no requirement that they be labeled as such when sold.

Consumer advocates point out that the human health impacts of eating GE fish are unknown, and environmentalists fear the potential damage to native populations from accidental release of GE fish. Genetic modification also raises significant animal welfare concerns. Though few data have been provided, preliminary findings show that AquAdvantage salmon experience high rates of abnormalities and mortality, and that they are prone to jaw deformities, lesions, and skeletal malformations. In considering AquaBounty’s application, FDA has neglected to take the health and welfare of the salmon themselves into account.

AWI has joined a coalition of 30 consumer, food safety, environmental, sustainable agriculture, public health, and animal health and welfare organizations in sending a letter to the nation’s top grocery store chains asking them to commit to not selling GE fish. Launched in March, the campaign quickly gained the support of three major national grocery chains, operating a total of 2,000 individual stores across the United States.

Members of the public can participate in the campaign by signing a petition to food retailers, asking them to pledge not to sell GE fish. The petition can be found at www.gefreeseafood.org.