A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has reportedly declined to take action or make any recommendations about the safety of genetically modified (GM) salmon at the conclusion of hearings that drew considerable media and public attention. A Massachusetts-based company has been trying to bring its AquAvantage® salmon to the market for more than 10 years. If it succeeds, the fish, which reportedly grow to full size in half the time as conventional salmon, will be the first GM animal sold for human consumption. According to a news source, FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee indicated that it lacked sufficient safety data to make a determination and suggested that the government undertake a more rigorous analysis of potential health effects and environmental impact.  

Agency documents made available before the hearing reportedly indicated that FDA was prepared to conclude that no biologically relevant differences between GM salmon and conventional salmon existed and that its consumption posed a reasonable certainty of no harm. Environmentalists and consumer activists have expressed concerns about the safety of GM foods and complained that FDA gave too little time for the public to comment on the technical information it released in advance of the hearings and that some of those sitting on the advisory committee either have no expertise in the matter or represent industry interests.  

Consumers Union apparently contends that GM salmon could pose an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals and that “FDA should be requiring studies with data from many more engineered fish, not the tiny sample of six fish on which it currently bases its conclusions.” Others are reportedly concerned about hazards the GM fish might pose to wild populations.  

Another issue facing the agency is whether to require a product label identifying it as genetically modified, and the second day of hearings was devoted to this matter. Consumer groups reportedly urged FDA to require GM labeling, while industry interests said that current rules preventing such labeling should apply. According to news sources, a decision on either issue is apparently months away. FDA must publish an environmental assessment for public comment and then will determine whether it will file a “finding of no significant impact” or an “environmental impact statement,” then rely on its findings to decide whether to allow the sale of the salmon. Thereafter, it could apparently take two years before the first GM fish appear in the marketplace. See Grist.org, September 20, 2010; The Wall Street Journal, September 20 and 22, 2010; Food Politics, The New York Times, Slate, msnbc.com, Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Greenwire, September 21, 2010.