As Comment Period on Approval and Labeling Winds Down More than 360,000 Send Comments to FDA Demanding Action on GE Fish
A coalition of consumer, environmental and animal welfare groups, along with commercial and recreational fisheries associations and food retailers, grocers and chefs held a joint press conference today demanding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deny approval of the long-shelved AquaBounty transgenic salmon and require mandatory labeling of the fish if approved despite intense opposition. If approved the transgenic salmon would be the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption.
“Consumers clearly do not want to eat genetically engineered salmon and should FDA decide to move forward despite overwhelming opposition it must be labeled,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety. Today the coalition presented the over 360,000 public comments that have been sent to FDA demanding the agency reject this application and require mandatory labeling of this transgenic salmon should it decide to approve it.
Anticipating the stark danger to our fisheries and ocean environments – and trying to circumvent analyses of those dangers – AquaBounty has claimed that they will only raise their fish in land-based facilities. However, many states ban raising transgenic fish in land-based facilities. Moreover, a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knowingly withheld a Federal Biological Opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) prohibiting the use of transgenic salmon in open-water net pens pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Other FOIA documents newly revealed serious concerns within the Fish and Wildlife Service about the approval of GE salmon.
“Poll after poll has shown than consumers are against the commercialization of GE salmon, and that any GE fish to reach the market should be labeled as such,” said Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food and Water Watch. A Lake Research Partners poll commissioned by Food & Water Watch and released in September found that 91 percent of Americans believe FDA should not allow genetically engineered fish and meat into the marketplace. Additionally, a 2008 Consumers Union nationwide poll found that 95 percent of respondents said they thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled. Circumventing public opinion, top food and agriculture biotechnology firms and trade associations spent over half a billion dollars over the past decade in campaign contributions and lobbying Congress in support of controversial industry projects like genetically engineered (GE) food animals according to a new analysis by Food & Water Watch.
“FDA’s decision to go ahead with this approval process is misguided and fails to take into account the numerous human health, environmental and animal welfare concerns that have been raised,” said Dr. George Leonard, Aquaculture Program Director at Ocean Conservancy. The FDA currently approves GE animals through its new animal drug law, yet critics fault the process as failing to require adequate safety assessments and lacking transparency and public engagement. “We need a robust system that is open, transparent and takes a rigorous approach to risk assessment rather than one that favors backdoor approvals and closed-door meetings,” added Leonard.
On September 19 and 20, the FDA convened its Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee for a public meeting to discuss the approval of the AquAdvantage salmon. The 2-day meeting was followed by a public hearing on the labeling of the transgenic salmon. FDA’s briefing materials for the meeting suggest that the AquAdvantage salmon has significantly lower levels of Omega 3 fatty acids (the healthy fat in salmon) compared to wild salmon and may have a greater potential to cause possibly fatal allergic reactions. FDA’s own Advisory Committee raised its own concerns regarding inadequate sample sizes, incomplete data, questionable culling practices, troubling physical abnormalities and poor environmental and scientific assessments. Additionally, the absence of data on disease resistance and inadequate nutritional composition data leave the safety of these animals largely unknown.
“FDA requires labeling of foods when there is a ‘material difference’ from other foods. In layman’s language, that means there is a difference that consumers care about. The differences between genetically engineered and conventional salmon are definitely differences that consumers care about that should trigger a mandatory label. Given the unanswered questions about increased allergy risks, labeling is doubly important,” states Michael Hansen of Consumers Union.
“We all know there is a great appetite for salmon, but the solution is not to ‘farm’ genetically engineered versions to put more on our dinner tables; the solution is to work to bring our wild salmon populations back” said Jonathan Rosenfield, Ph. D. fish ecologist for SalmonAid. “The approval of these transgenic fish will only exacerbate the problem.”
COALITION MEMBERS INCLUDE: CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY – FOOD AND WATER WATCH – SALMONAID – NORTHWEST ATLANTIC MARINE ALLIANCE – ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION – FRIENDS OF THE EARTH – THE LIVING OCEANS SOCIETY – SMALL BOAT COMMERCIAL SALMON FISHERMEN’S ASSOCIATION – THE GEORGIA STRAIT ALLIANCE – CALIFORNIANS FOR GE-FREE AGRICULTURE – THE ORGANIC & NON-GMO REPORT – PLANETARY HEALTH, INC. – SIERRA CLUB – SAY NO TO GMOS! – CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH – CANADIAN BIOTECHNOLOGY ACTION COUNCIL – INSTITUTE FOR FISHERIES RESOURCES – AMERICAN ANTI-VIVISECTION SOCIETY – PACIFIC COAST FEDERATION OF FISHERMEN’S ASSOCIATION – MANGROVE ACTION PROJECT – FOOD FIRST – INSTITUTE FOR FOOD AND DEVELOPMENT POLICY – EDEN FOODS, INC. – THE NON-GMO PROJECT – NORTHWEST RESISTANCE AGAINST GENETIC ENGINEERING – BRISTOL BAY REGIONAL SEAFOOD DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION – AMBERWAVES – GLOUSTER FISHERMEN’S WIVES ASSOCIATION – ALASKA MARINE CONSERVATION COUNCIL – ALASKA TROLLERS ASSOCIATION – FRESH – CREDO ACTION – FOOD DEMOCRACY NOW – OCEAN CONSERVANCY– ALLIANCE FOR NATURAL HEALTH US
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A complete list of coalition press releases as well as joint letters signed by more than 300 environmental, health and consumer groups; animal welfare organizations; fishermen and fishing organizations and associations; and food companies, grocers, distributors, chefs and restaurants are available on the web at: www.ge-fish.org