The People have Spoken: Massive Pushback to Genetically-Engineered Salmon

Two and half years ago, genetically engineered salmon exploded on the national stage.  April marked another big milestone in the ensuing debate about whether genetically engineered animals will be allowed in the U.S. food supply.  This isn’t some esoteric, pointy-headed debate.  It really is about the future of food and what you feed your family. And as an ocean conservation organization, we are especially concerned about the consequences for the future of seafood, wild fish and healthy oceans.

The Food and Drug Administration’s final comment period has now closed on the agency’s draft decision to approve an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon.  We hope you let your voice heard by submitting comments to the agency. 

If you joined the chorus of voices, you are certainly  in good company. As the deadline  approached, there was a massive outpouring of concern from nearly every sector of society.  Among others, these include:

  • Nearly 1.5 million members of the public have written to FDA requesting that the agency complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before a decision to approve the fish is made.  It is worth noting that the agency has refused to do this to date even though this request has been in front of the agency since their plans went public in September 2010.
  • Dr. Anne R. Kapuscinski, a world-renowned expert on the environmental risks of GE fish, submitted to FDA a scathing review  that essentially showed that the agency had ignored all the recommendations she made back in September 2010. Given she literally wrote the book on risk assessment of GE fish, it is stunning that agency officials have simply looked the other way.
  • Congress has joined the debate. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation on GE salmon.  The bills would require the FDA to fully evaluate the risks of GE fish to wild fish and healthy oceans as well as require labeling of any GE food, so consumers simply can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace.  A group of 12 Senators has also written directly to FDA Commissioner Hamburg expressing their concerns over the approval process.  And in an important symbolic gesture earlier this spring, the full Senate passed by voice vote a non-binding budget amendment that would require labeling of GE fish.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the market for GE fish may be drying up before the fish even arrives at store shelves.  Major retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other retailers representing over 2000 stores across the United States have pledged to not sell the fish, even if the government approves it.  As every business knows, you need a willing buyer for your product if you are going to stay in business.  It increasingly looks like a market for GE fish won’t exist in the U.S. – unless the FDA does the necessary analysis to rigorously show little risk of harm to consumers or the environment.

Shortly before the deadline, we submitted our comments to the FDA – all 37 pages of them.  I welcome you to read about our concerns here.  And I encourage you to follow me on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard. 

 While the comment period has closed, this isn’t the end of the debate about the future of fish.


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