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Anti-Science Crusade Targets GE Salmon (again)

April 1, 2016
Mainstream media outlets – including Reuters and the Wall Street Journal – covered the announcement by the Center for Food Safety that it and other groups are asking a federal court to stop the FDA's approval of the genetically engineered AquAdvantage Salmon.

AquaBountyIn a lawsuit filed on March 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the groups, which also include Food and Water Watch, Earthjustice and Friends of the Earth, allege that the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act's animal drug provisions, under which the fish was approved, were never designed to regulate GE animals, which "present enormously different risks and impacts than drugs, requiring different expertise, analyses, and regulation than were contemplated when Congress enacted" the law.

Perhaps even more troubling:  The suit also seeks to prohibit the FDA from taking further action on the fish or any other genetically engineered animal for human consumption until Congress grants an agency clear authority over such products.

The FDA approved the salmon in November after a lengthy 20-year review in the first such approval for an animal whose DNA has been scientifically modified. An agency policy analyst said at the time that officials had wanted "to get everything right" and offer many opportunities for public comment because the approval was the first of its kind.

AquaBounty Technologies, developer of the GE salmon, told media that the company “is confident that the approval will stand, and that the FDA has been extraordinarily thorough and transparent in the review and approval of our application.”

The fact is the development of AquAdvantage Salmon is based on more than two decades of scientific research, making it the most studied line of Atlantic salmon.  After an exhaustive review over two decades, “the FDA determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat and as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon and that there are no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.”

James Wright, Editorial Manager at Global Aquaculture Alliance, has written “Science fact-checker debunks GM salmon criticisms” addressing the plaintiff’s claims and referencing a recent post.

One of the key concerns among GE salmon opponent groups is the fear that the modified salmon could escape and possibly threaten wild salmon populations.  George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety, told The Huffington Post: “That’s one of the major risks here, is the escape of these fish into the wild.  It could be a final blow to our already imperiled salmon stocks.”  But Wright explains why the chances of this happening are slim to none:

The production of AquAdvantage fish will be limited to land-based facilities (and is currently limited to two facilities, one in Canada and another in Panama), according to the FDA’s November ruling. contends that geographic, physical and biological confinement would greatly limit the likelihood that GM salmon could impact wild salmon populations.

Because the fish are rendered sterile, the article stated, they can’t interbreed with wild salmon. And since all the fish are female and can’t produce eggs, they can’t “trick wild females into thinking they had successfully reproduced.”

The greatest potential for risk to the environment would be due to “nefarious diversion or freak accident (e.g., plane crash),” David F. Senior, an emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University, told 

Additionally, even if fish raised in the Panama facility were to somehow find their way to the ocean, they would be unable to survive in the oxygen levels at that latitude of the Pacific Ocean, Senior added.

When the FDA finally approved the AquAdvantage Salmon in November of last year, BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood commended the FDA for “taking this very important step in the right direction for the advancement of animal biotechnology innovation.”

Genetically engineered animals embody an innovative technology that is transforming public health through biomedical, environmental and food applications, and we need a regulatory system that encourages such innovation.  Other animal biotech applications in development include:

  • AquaBounty is working on a modified trout that adds weight faster than conventional rainbow trout, and is preparing studies for regulatory review.

  • Minnesota-based Recombinetics Inc. has been using gene-editing technology to develop dairy cattle that don’t grow horns, which typically are cut off to ensure the animals don’t injure workers or one another, a process that has drawn criticism from animal welfare groups.

  • With the growing threat of the Zika virus, the Food and Drug Administration is currently taking comments on the genetically engineered Oxitec mosquito. Oxitec’s self-limiting mosquito has been shown to be highly effective by reducing the Aedes aegypti population in urban areas by over 90%.

BIO believes the Center for Food Safety’s continued anti-science crusade against biotechnology not only reveals its utter lack of credibility on food safety issues, but only serves to harm the collective efforts of scientists, farmers, and breeders who are working tirelessly to feed a growing and hungry world through more sustainable agricultural practices.  Lawsuits and political roadblocks only serve to impede progress and innovation.