By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has gotten a lot of bad press over the last few years for their poor food safety record. From poison peanuts to toxic spinach, the agency is under-resourced and over-committed. Now, they are about to let industry pressure overrule good common sense by allowing genetically modified (GE) salmon to be sold to consumers. What’s particularly crazy is that they used a process for approving veterinary drugs to consider whether the salmon is safe for human consumption and whether it could adversely impact wild salmon populations.
This is why Congress is ramping up opposition to the “frankenfish,” and it’s an issue that Democrats and Republicans alike can agree on. Last month, the House passed a bipartisan amendment to prohibit the FDA from spending funds to approve the controversial fish. And just last Friday, eight senators sent a letter to the FDA stating that they’re moving forward with similar legislation. How did we get to this point?
Inexcusably, the FDA has forged ahead in the approval process despite the fact that insufficient testing has been performed on both the human health and environmental impacts of the fish. Furthermore, Americans don’t want this poorly tested fish in grocery stores. Independent polls show that over 90 percent of the public opposes the FDA allowing GE meat into the food supply. Despite this fact, our taxpayer money is being spent to approve the very thing most of us oppose.
When it comes to the human health impact, AquaBounty performed the few tests submitted to the FDA, when independent researchers who are objective and have nothing to gain should have been selected. The testing suffered from small data sets and poor design. AquaBounty even killed off salmon that were deformed prior to doing a physical analysis for comparison with non-GE fish. Translation: we still can’t say with certainty if the fish will cause severe allergic reactions or worse in consumers.
And that’s only half the threat. After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, my consumer advocacy group, Food & Water Watch, received numerous internal documents and emails from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service exposing startling environmental concerns. The agency even stated with regards to fish escapes that, “Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park.” This makes sense in light of AquaBounty’s claims (in a misguided attempt to reassure the public) that 95 percent of the fish will be infertile. But what about the other 5 percent? AquaBounty has said it has already received orders for 15 million eggs – meaning that 750,000 of them could be fertile immediately. If they escape they will wreak havoc on natural salmon populations.
Thankfully, some members of Congress recognize that approving GE salmon now would represent flagrant disregard for these concerns. And since it appears the FDA has been operating for the benefit of AquaBounty rather than in the public’s interest, they’re starting to put the brakes on this science experiment.
The Senate took a firm position in last Friday’s letter to the FDA, stating: “Given the strong and growing Congressional opposition to the approval of GE fish in both chambers, spending time on further review of genetically engineered fish would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
How right they are. The nation is in the middle of an intense budget debate. We have to make some difficult decisions about where to spend federal dollars. The last thing most taxpayers want is the federal government frivolously throwing their money at a corporate project that could devastate both our health and the health of the environment.
Despite this movement in the right direction, GE salmon hasn’t been thwarted yet and could be approved by the FDA any day. If you want to keep GE animals off your dinner plate, it is imperative you contact your member of Congress and drive the point home: allowing the FDA to approve GE salmon would jeopardize our environment, our health and our economic recovery.