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Food advocacy group to sue FDA over controversial approval of GMO salmon

statueoflibertyOpposition against the USA's Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the first genetically engineered food animal, AquaBounty’s GMO salmon, is fiercely mounting.

The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit organization, announced plans to sue the federal agency. Grocery store chains around the country have also made commitments to not sell the controversial fish.

“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment. Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public.”

Kimbrell, on behalf of the environmental organization, submitted a citizen petition to the FDA requiring “foods that are genetically engineered organisms, or contain ingredients derived from genetically engineered organisms” be labelled under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.

The FDA has since responded to the petition with a 35-page document that denies the Center for Food Safety’s request. It states:

Under the FD&C Act [the] FDA cannot require that all foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, be labelled as having been genetically engineered.

Further, while we appreciate consumer interest in the labelling of food derived from genetically engineered plants, consumer interest alone does not provide a sufficient basis to require labelling disclosing whether a food has been produced with or without the use of such genetic engineering.

AquaBounty’s salmon is genetically altered to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. According to Reuters, “the fish is essentially Atlantic salmon with a Pacific salmon gene for faster growth and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout that promotes year-round growth.”

It will take about two more years to reach the market as distribution is being worked out, the Massachusetts-based company says.

Still, this GMO food fight is getting heated. The Center for Food Safety pointed out that millions of Americans and more than 40 members of Congress have expressed vocal opposition of GMO salmon.salmon

Nearly 2 million people filed public comments opposing the approval of GMO salmon by the FDA, the largest number of comments the FDA has ever received on an action.

A Pew Research Poll last year also revealed that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that GMO-foods are “generally unsafe” to eat.

Some people might be wondering whether this fish will make it onto plates since “more than 60 grocery store chains representing more than 9,000 stores across the U.S. have made commitments to not sell the GMO salmon, including Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi and many others,” according to the environmental non-profit, Friends of the Earth.

However, many Big Food grocers are absent from this list. Costco, one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., remains open to selling GMO salmon despite vehement opposition from activists. Similarly, Walmart, the country’s largest supermarket chain (which accounts for 15 percent of fresh food sales in the U.S.), has not announced whether or not it will sell GMO salmon.

Additionally, a lack of GMO labelling laws might mean that consumers will not have a choice over the matter. AquAdvantage Salmon, the trade name for the genetically modified Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies, will not require a GMO label under FDA guidelines.

Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote after yesterday’s announcement from the FDA:

“To add insult to injury, this product will be hitting store shelves without labelling, making it impossible for concerned consumers to distinguish GMO from non-GMO salmon. Not only does this ignore consumers’ fundamental right to know how our food is produced, it is simply bad for business, since many consumers will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered.”

Hauter also says that the “FDA’s decision also disregards AquaBounty’s disastrous environmental record, which greatly raises the stakes for an environmentally damaging escape of GMO salmon.”

Critics of GMO salmon have called it “frankenfish” and have made their feelings about it very clear, as seen in this video:

“Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth.

“People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.”

Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It, said that the decision to approve GMO salmon without a mandatory disclosure is “yet another example of how FDA’s outdated policy keeps consumers in the dark.”

The FDA as well as many major food companies, maintain that GMO foods are safe for consumption and for the environment and that mandatory GMO labels would be misleading. As EcoWatch reported in October, Big Food has spent millions of dollars and extensively lobbied lawmakers for a national ban on GMO labels … and it might actually happen.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favour of H.R. 1599 in July, which bans states from requiring GMO labels on food. It also blocks the FDA from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labelling and allows food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods containing GMO ingredients.

The bill has been dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act or DARK Act by opponents. A Senate version of the bill could hit the floor in the coming weeks.

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