The FDA’s flawed environmental assessment deliberately omitted critical information. Action Alert!
On December 21, under cover of the holidays and hoping for as little media attention as possible, the FDA released an environmental assessment (EA) of AquaBounty’s “AquAdvantage” transgenic salmon, which we dubbed “Frankenfish” back in 2010). This assessment stated that the genetically engineered salmon would have “no significant impact” on the US environment—thus pushing the fish one step closer to approval.
The FDA’s analysis, however, is deeply flawed in that it looked only at the impact it might have on the US environment. The FDA is not required to look at environmental impacts in foreign nations, even though the salmon is created in Canada and raised in Panama! That’s why an EA is insufficient and a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is necessary: an EIS is far more detailed, and takes into account environmental impacts beyond US borders, exactly what the government wanted to avoid.
AquaBounty claims that the company’s process for raising GE fish is safer than traditional aquaculture, yet documents released by the Canadian government show that a new strain of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA), the deadly “flu” that has been devastating fish stocks around the world, contaminated the company’s Prince Edward Island facility in 2009. This caused AquaBounty to cull much of its broodstock and lose its “fish health” certificate from the Canadian authorities (thus barring exports of the fish); the company only regained the certificate in November 2011. None of this information was included in the FDA’s report.
The EA, which relies heavily on data provided by AquaBounty, also fails to mention the fact that up to five percent of the fish may be fertile, when we were assured they would all be sterile. The genetically engineered fish could easily escape into local waterways and wreak havoc on the ecosystem and our already-threatened wild salmon populations.
The timing of the report is also suspect beyond the holiday cover. The EA is dated May 2012, but it was released after the election, so it could not affect the president’s electability (GMOs are controversial among Obama’s political base). The report’s failure to include vital health and environmental information flies in the face of the White House’s 2009 science integrity memo pledging that political officials would not suppress scientific findings and conclusions.
The FDA’s assessment was released in support of AquaBounty’s NDA, or New Drug Application, for the salmon. Most people don’t realize that there is no regulatory process for approving genetically engineered animals in the US; this is most likely so they can avoid extensive scrutiny. Although the review of GE animals is shoehorned into the New Drug Application process, the oversight of GE animals is insufficient and never even looks at the impact on the health of humans who eat GE animals.
The EA also ignores the urging of more than 40 members of Congress to conduct a more rigorous review of the salmon’s environmental and health safety. The public filed nearly 400,000 comments demanding FDA reject this application, and 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, and chefs and restaurants filed joint statements with FDA opposing approval of the salmon. Public outcry apparently means nothing in today’s crony capitalist environment!
Approval of the salmon will open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals, including pigs and cows. AquaBounty’s largest shareholder—the company that bailed them out of their financial woes—is the biotech company Intrexon. Its senior VP and head of animal sciences is Thomas Kasser, a twenty-year veteran of Monsanto Choice Genetics, where he worked on recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH); he is also a former vice-president of Pfizer and McDonalds.
Action Alert! We now have a 60-day comment period, after which FDA must respond to the comments and issue a final disposition. Tell FDA to conduct a more rigorous review of environmental and health safety, and halt any approval process until concerns over risks, transparency, and oversight have been fully satisfied. Explain the safety concerns with GMO foods in general and this “Frankenfish” in particular. Take action now!