Back in November, it looked like genetically modified salmon, known by its critics as "Frankenfish," were headed to dinner plates across the country. As it was the first GM animal approved for consumption, the ruling unsurprisingly generated a lot of controversy, and in February the approval was put on hold. Now, the embattled GM salmon will soon see its day in court.
The company behind the GM AquaBounty salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, said it has engineered a salmon that is identical to wild salmon but can grow to maturity in half the time, requiring less food and resources. Under its proposal that was approved by the FDA, it would grow salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island in Canada and then fly them to a facility in Panama where they would mature. A host of preventative measures, such as redundant filters and a nearly flawless sterilization process, were proposed to prevent the salmon escaping and proliferating in the wild.
But consumer and environmental groups didn't think the preventative measures were enough, and they were further outraged that under the original approval, the GM salmon wouldn't have to be labeled as GM products. Amid pressure from environmental groups and grocery store chains, the FDA put a halt on the approval a couple of months after the initial ruling until it could come to a labeling solution. The new lawsuit aims to unravel the whole approval process, alleging that the FDA ignored warnings from fisheries and wildlife experts and didn't take seriously the "significant environmental effects" that could come with GM salmon.
Some environmental groups worry that if GM salmon were to escape into the wild, they would wreak havoc, outcompeting wild salmon for resources and spreading disease. There is a very small chance that AquaBounty's sterilization process can fail, and they could proliferate and mate with wild salmon if they ended up in the wild. If that were to happen, GM salmon could end up among wild-caught salmon, leading, potentially, to labeling confusion and lawsuits.
"I have been to the [egg breeding] facility. It's 120 feet from the sound, and that's not deep inland," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, one of more than ten groups that filed the lawsuit collectively. "Prince Edward Island has been hit by large hurricanes in the past, similar to [superstorm] Sandy, and the whole facility could be washed out."
The suit contends that the FDA ignored expert scientists, some from other federal agencies, who "repeatedly cited and expressed great concern with FDA's narrow, incomplete, unsubstantiated, and outdated analysis of the potential environmental and ecological threats posed by GE salmon."
For now, those who fear the Frankenfish can breathe a little easier.