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Misguided FDA Opposition to Labeling Could Leave Public Permanently in the Dark About GE Animals

After a two-day public hearing on the approval of the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption, the AquAdvantage GE salmon, FDA held a public hearing today to discuss whether or not these GE fish should be labeled as such should they be approved. A 60-day public comment period on the labeling issue will be open until November 22, 2010.

"This transgenic salmon is the first GE animal intended for food, yet the human health impacts of eating these GE fish are completely unknown," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director at the Center for Safety  (CFS). "These GE fish also pose unacceptable risks to wild salmon and the marine environment." These "unknowns" were raised repeatedly at yesterday's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) hearing, and the Committee was unable to come to any conclusion as to the safety or efficacy of the GE salmon.  The hearing on labeling is premature given that the VMAC has not approved this salmon for human or animal consumption.

The public has not been quiet about the possible approval of GE salmon. In fact, over 300 environmental, consumer, health, and animal welfare organizations, along with salmon and fishing groups and associations, food companies, chefs and restaurants signed joint letters to the FDA opposing the approval of AquaBounty's GE salmon.  CFS and a coalition of allied groups also submitted 172,000 comments from individuals opposing the approval and urging clear, mandatory labeling should the fish be approved despite overwhelming public opposition (CFS comments to the VMAC and the joint letters can be found on our website).  

Announcements by FDA officials and speakers today suggest that the Agency may not require labeling of GE salmon should it be approved. While FDA is operating under the fiction that transgenic animals are "new drugs," the Agency does not feel that they need to be labeled in the same way that drugs are.

A Lake Research Partners poll  commissioned by Food & Water Watch and released yesterday found that 91 percent of Americans believe FDA should not allow genetically engineered fish and meat into the marketplace; 83 percent felt strongly that it should not be allowed.  Additionally, a 2008 Consumers Union nationwide poll  found that 95 percent of respondents said they thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled, and 78 percent strongly agreed with this.

In his comments today, CFS Senior Staff Attorney George Kimbrell asserted that "labeling in the 21st Century cannot be based on 20th Century policy decisions."  The FDA currently uses its 1992 interpretation of "material" to inform its decisions on labeling, an interpretation that occurred prior to commercialization of any transgenic animal.