October 19, 2018

Groups Ask FDA for Decision on GE Fish

The groups Earthjustice, the Ocean Conservancy, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety, and Food & Water Watch have sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking for a response to a petition they filed a year ago. The petition asked the FDA to complete an environmental impact statement on the risks associated with genetically engineered (GE) fish.

FDAThe petition was sent to the agency a year ago in response to an application filed in 2010 by AquaBounty Technologies, which wants to sell GE salmon. The FDA received more than 400,000 comments in opposition to this plan. The groups want the FDA to reach a decision on GE fish and to be more transparent in their decision-making process.

Last month, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) proposed an amendment to the United States Senate asking that the FDA conduct “environment and economic impact studies of the first genetically engineered animal in the human food supply.” It failed by a vote of 46 to 50.

Many genetically engineered or genetically modified plants have been approved since 1996, including canola (rapeseed), corn, sugar beets, rice, tomatoes, squash, and bell peppers. Many of these plants are modified to increase resistance to insecticides and herbicides.

Critics of these organisms say that there are several issues about genetic engineering that are not being addressed:

  • Human health issues. There are no long term studies on the potential impact on human health these organisms could cause.  In addition, if a food that is not allergenic has a gene from an allergenic food put in it, that food could cause allergic reactions. For instance, soybeans were engineered with a gene from a Brazil nut, which caused allergic reactions. And StarLink corn, which was approved only for animal consumption because of allergen concerns, has been found in taco shells. Some experts are also concerned that antibiotic resistant genes could transfer from plants to people.
  • Ecological worries. A study was published in Nature in 1999 that showed pollen from GE corn was killing monarch butterfly caterpillars. When plants are bred to be resistant to herbicides (such as Roundup Ready soybeans), that gene escaped the engineered plants and moved to noxious weeds, meaning more toxic herbicides need to be used. It’s impossible to contain these genes once they have escaped into the plant population.
  •  Economic concerns.  GM seeds are subject to intellectual property law, which forces farmers to buy seeds from the companies who own the patents. There are high technology fee costs for these seeds, and farmers need to use more herbicides on GM crops.

Corporations are not required to prove that GE foods are safe before they are put on the market. And GE foods are not labeled, although that may change after the fall elections, when California votes on this issue, thanks to the Right to Know Campaign.

Earthjustice wants the FDA to conduct a “careful, comprehensive, and open review of the many significant environmental risk questions raised by this first-of-its-kind application,” Khushi Desai told Food Poisoning Bulletin. “It is unacceptable that a full year has passed and we still have no answers and absolutely no insight into the agency’s consideration of these risks.”

Another petition filed with the FDA by Consumers Union and other organizations asks the FDA to classified genetically engineered salmon as a food additive, which would require toxicology testing to determine if the food is safe for human consumption. Those groups are concerned that the GE salmon may contain higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that makes the fish grow faster. This hormone is linked to breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer.

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