Back in November of 2010, there was much fear over the possibility that genetically modified salmon would be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, received internal documents and emails from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) which exposed shocking concerns with AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon – the first genetically modified food animal which could be approved for human consumption.
Some of the information within the documents revealed that the FDA did not consult with both FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine whether or not the genetically modified fish would impact wild, endangered Atlantic salmon. By not consulting with these groups, the FDA dodged requirements under the Endangered Species Act which was signed into law in the 70’s in order to protect animal species from extinction.
“Nice work Greg,” Denise Hawkins, PhD, FWS Regional Geneticist wrote to a coworker in September. “Especially pointing out that there is no data to support the claims of low survival in the event of escape, which I agree with you all is a big concern. I also agree…that using triploid fish [which AquaBounty claim have undergone a sterilization process] is not foolproof. Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park.”
Related Read: Genetically Modified Salmon Funded by USDA: $500,000
AquaBounty was only supposed to produce sterile salmon so that the genetically modified fish could not reproduce. Despite this claim, they admitted that up to 5 percent of their genetically modified salmon eggs could be fertile. The FDA then labeled the company’s claims “potentially misleading”.
The emails also show that despite AquaBounty’s claims that the GM salmon would be grown in a controlled environment, FWS employees received a proposal in to grow the fish in an area where they would be discharged into the ocean off the coast of Maine. “No matter what precautions you take, fish escape and once they do, there is no closing that door. So, that being said, I think it is very bad precedent to set,” said one FWS program supervisor.
The FDA is also required by law to conduct an environmental impact statement for any regulatory action which could harm the human environment. This requirement is under the National Environmental Policy Act. The FDA hadn’t done so prior to November 15th of 2010.
AquaBounty is counting on this fish to go through. Having invested $50 million in the product, the genetically modified salmon also possesses a large part of AquaBounty’s success. At least 30 House members and 13 senators expressed concern over the FDA’s review process. Many of them called for an outright prohibition of genetically modified salmon. Despite the outcry, the FDA closed public comment and could have approved the fish as soon as November 23 of 2010.
The fish is still not approved today.