Stop Frankenfish! Federal Scientists Fear FDA Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Internal documents and emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request made by Food & Water Watch expose startling concerns with GMO salmon raised by scientists working at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The documents reveal that, as late as last month, the FDA had not adequately fulfilled a requirement under the Endangered Species Act to consult with both FWS and another federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to determine whether approval of AquaBounty’s salmon might impact wild, endangered Atlantic salmon.

“Nice work Greg,” Denise Hawkins, PhD, FWS Regional Geneticist wrote to a coworker in September. “Especially pointing out that there is no data to support the claims of low survival in the event of escape, which I agree with you all is a big concern. I also agree that using triploid fish [which AquaBounty claim have undergone a sterilization process] is not foolproof. Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park.”

Despite AquaBounty’s claim to produce only sterile salmon, the company admitted that up to 5 percent of their GE salmon eggs could be fertile, prompting the FDA to label the company’s claims “potentially misleading”. According to FWS internal emails, contrary to AquaBounty’s claims that GE salmon would be grown in closed systems (and therefore unable to escape), FWS employees received news of a proposal to grow the fish in a facility that would discharge into the ocean off the coast of Maine.

“No matter what precautions you take, fish escape and once they do, there is no closing that door. So, that being said, I think it is very bad precedent to set,” said one FWS program supervisor.

In the documents, high-ranking FWS employees, including Jeff Adams, a branch chief, complain of the FDA’s failure to consult with FWS as required by law.

“The proposal [to approve AquaBounty salmon] also presents a situation where FDA, whose jurisdiction is not focused on natural resources, is entrusted with the authority to approve an application which poses such a threat to the country’s natural resources,” Adams said.

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