FDA clears way for GE salmon into US

DNA altered fish do not require mandatory labeling

An import ban that kept genetically engineered salmon from entering the United States has been lifted by the Food and Drug Administration, clearing the way for AquaBounty Technologies to grow and sell these fish with altered DNA into retail markets.

The announcement that the ban was lifted came in a prepared statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on March 8, who said AquAdvantage Salmon eggs could not be imported to the company’s contained grow-out facility in Indiana, to be raised into salmon for food.

“This fish is safe to eat, the genetic construct added to the fish’s genome is safe for the animal, and the manufacturer’s claim that it reaches a growth marker important to the aquaculture industry more rapidly than its non-GE farm-raised Atlantic salmon counterpart is confirmed,” Gottlieb said.

The FDA also analyzed the potential environmental impact that approving the AquAdvantage salmon application would have and found that it would not cause a significant impact on the U.S. environment, he said.

The statement was issued three days after Gottlieb announced his plans to resign the post within the month.

Sylvia Wulf, chief executive officer of AquaBounty Technologies Inc., in Maynard, MA, issued a statement saying that the company was “delighted” that FDA has lifted the import alert.

Wulf said that FDA had approved its product as safe, nutritious and environmentally sound and meeting all other regulatory requirements, based on a science-based review process. “We will immediately start the process to import AquAdvantage eggs from our hatchery in Canada to begin grow out at our Indiana facility,” she said.

The FDA decision drew sharp criticism from Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Patty Murray, D-WA, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C.

Murkowski called the decision short-sighted, wrong-headed and a bad idea, and said she would continue her fight to ensure that any salmon product that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled.

“USDA’s new guidelines don’t require adequate mandatory labeling and don’t suffice as giving consumers clear information,” she said. “Instead, they will only confuse people.

“I will continue to have serious concerns about splicing DNA from two animals to produce a new marketable fish, essentially creating a new species. American consumers deserve to know what they are purchasing and ultimately eating,” Murkowski said.

Murray called the imported GE salmon a serious threat to Washington state’s wild salmon population, and vowed to fight to keep “Frankenfish” away from her state.

UFA also took aim at the FDA decision, saying that for the federal agency to lift that ban without requiring clear labeling to show that the product is genetically engineered is a disservice to consumers and a blow to Alaska’s hardworking fishing communities.

The nonprofit environmental entity Friends of the Earth noted that more than 80 retailers already have policies to not sell genetically engineered seafood. The list includes major Pacific Northwest retailers Albertsons, Costco, Carrs, Kroger (Fred Meyer stores), Safeway, Target, Trader Joes, Walmart and Whole Foods.

George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., said that the Center is examining possible legal action to force the FDA to comply with an amendment had inserted into FDA appropriations language that requires the FDA to issue mandatory labeling guidelines for GE salmon, clearly stating on package labeling that these fish are genetically engineered. FDA claims that the USDA new “bioengineered food” labeling guidelines are adequate, but the USA “bioengineered” guidelines do not require explicitly labeling GE salmon as “genetically engineered, Kimbrell said.

Moreover, companies could choose to hide the label using a QR code, rather than on-package labeling, he said. A QR code is a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black and white squares typically used for storing URLS or other information for reading by a camera or a smartphone.