Nearly three years after the Food and Drug Administration announced it would consider approving genetically engineered salmon, the public comment period has closed, but the company seeking approval to market the fish is now strapped financially.
Last week saw the end of the public comment period for GE salmon with over 1.8 million comments sent to the FDA. The Center for Food Safety spearheaded a broad coalition of groups to encourage comments opposing approval of the fish. The opposition includes public interest, consumer, environmental and animal protection groups, and commercial and recreational fisheries associations and food businesses and retailers.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama Administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product through a broken regulatory system,” says Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “The GE salmon has no socially redeeming value; it’s bad for the consumer, bad for the environment, and bad for out native salmon.”
“The fact that the consideration of AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon has gotten this far is a sign of how broken the U.S. current regulatory structure actually is,” says Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “If GMO salmon is approved, it sets a dangerous precedent and will be a new low for the Obama administration in their failure to properly protect the American public and our food supply.”
In December the FDA announced a draft environmental assessment indicating the genetically engineered salmon from AquaBounty – called AquaAdvantage – would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment. The salmon would be farmed in Panama.
AquaBounty formally applied for approval of the GM salmon in 1995. If approved, the salmon would become the first genetically engineered animal to enter America’s human food supply.
Journalist Emily Anthes described AquaAdvantage in The New York Times as “an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic ‘switch’ from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.”
AquaBounty says the faster-growing “AquaAdvantage Salmon” saves time and resources, and that the products are safe. Critics claim such GM products are not sufficiently tested for safety, carry allergy risks and should be labeled.
The regulatory process, however, has left AquaBounty in limbo, and the company has suffered financially. Last AquaBounty’s net losses were $4.4 million, which comes after a $2.7 million loss the previous year. The company has responded by reducing spending and raising new capital.
Reports indicate the company has raised $6 million, but that may only be enough to implement the initial commercialization phase.
“AquaAdvantage salmon continues to attract interest from major companies in the aquaculture trade and this, together with the FDA panel of experts concluding that AAS is indistinguishable from other Atlantic salmon, is safe to eat and does not pose a threat to the environment under its conditions of use, reaffirms our belief that there will be a significant demand for our product,” AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish told Foodnavigator.com.