Led by U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska), a group of legislators has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to halt its ongoing review of genetically engineered (GE) salmon, citing “serious concerns with the current approval process and many potential health and environmental risks that are associated with producing GE fish.” FDA recently held public hearings to decide the fate of a new animal drug application (NADA) for AquAvantage® salmon, an Atlantic variety that uses genes from ocean pout and Chinook to increase the speed of maturation. Additional details about these hearings appear in Issue 365 of this Update.  

In their September 28, 2010, letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the Senators argue that the NADA process lacks transparency and does not adequately address the “creation of a new animal, especially one intended for human consumption.” The signatories specifically point to reports that GE salmon “‘have slightly higher levels of insulinlike growth factor…associated with greater cancer risk.’” They also highlight the potential for environmental damage from “escaped fish, fish waste, other pollutants, and infectious diseases,” citing company data that suggests “5 percent of its eggs may not be sterile” and raising questions about interbreeding with wild fish, competition for habitat and food, and the abnormal behaviors of farmed fish.  

According to the letter, the Senators are “finally…concerned about the dangerous precedent that this ruling could set, as companies will likely seek FDA approval for other genetically engineered products such as GE tilapia and GE trout.” Begich further asserts that this call for FDA to stop the review “immediately” has already garnered support from “52 consumer and environmental groups, commercial and recreational fisheries associations, and food businesses and retailers,” including the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development, and the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. See Senator Begich Press Release, September 28, 2010.