WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Food and Drug Administration has announced its approval of a genetically engineered salmon, and the agency's draft guidance for voluntary labeling of GE food. Both the approval notice and the guidance proposal have angered anti-GE advocates, as the food wars heat up.
The FDA maintains that its approval of the GE salmon is based on sound science and comprehensive review. However, the approval is under the new animal drug provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, not the food provisions, because the "recombinant DNA (rDNA)" introduced into the genetic structure of these fish meets the definition of a drug, the agency said in its announcement. The introduced genetic trait makes these fish grow faster.
"The FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat," said Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
The agency insists that the trait is safe for the fish, that the flesh is safe to eat and as nutritious as any other salmon, and that the containment precautions the company plans to employ are sufficient to ensure the fish will not get out and establish in the environment.
However, the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GE organization, also announced its plan Thursday to sue the FDA to block the approval of the salmon.
"The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment. Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said. "FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public."
The group maintains that AquaBounty has a "disastrous environmental record," which the FDA ignored, claiming the company's facility in Panama did not follow basic environmental regulations there, and further noting that researchers in Canada, where the company's other facility is located, have found that these GE salmon can successfully breed with brown trout. The FDA holds the opposite position, maintaining that the GE salmon are "reproductively sterile so that even in the highly unlikely event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild."
Food & Water Watch, another group opposed to GE species and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), noted that the FDA used an environmental assessment rather than the more rigorous environmental impact statement process in making the determination to approve the salmon.
"The Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically engineered food animal, AquaBounty's genetically engineered salmon, despite insufficient safety testing and widespread opposition. This unfortunate, historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition," the group said in their response to the announcement.
Food and Water Watch also decried the FDA's announcement of voluntary guidelines for labeling GE and GMO foods. The FDA maintains that its responsibility is to only require additional labeling of GE/GMO foods if "there is a material difference, such as a different nutritional profile, between the GE product and its non-GE counterpart," which the agency found did not apply in the case of the GE salmon.
"We recognize that some consumers are interested in knowing whether food ingredients are derived from GE sources," Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said. "The FDA is issuing two guidance documents that explain how food companies that want to voluntarily label their products can provide this information to consumers." One of the documents addresses labeling for GE plant-based food, and the other document is specific for the GE salmon.
"To add insult to injury, this product will be hitting store shelves without labeling, making it impossible for concerned consumers to distinguish GMO from non-GMO salmon. Not only does this ignore consumers' fundamental right to know how our food is produced, it is simply bad for business, since many consumers will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered," Food and Water Watch said. The proposed voluntary labeling guidelines are scheduled to be published on Monday, Nov. 23. The public can comment of the draft guidance documents once they are published.