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Court questions environmental impact of GMO salmon

US FDA must evaluate risks of genetically engineered fish escaping

by Britt E. Erickson
November 14, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 44


Credit: AquaBounty Technologies
AquaBounty Technologies is raising genetically modified salmon in indoor tanks in Indiana.

The US Food and Drug Administration violated environmental laws when it approved the commercialization of genetically engineered salmon for food in 2015, a federal court ruled Nov. 5. The US District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the FDA to evaluate the potential impacts of the modified salmon escaping into the environment.

The salmon in question are produced by AquaBounty Technologies under the name AquAdvantage salmon. The fish are genetically modified to grow faster than conventional salmon.

AquaBounty’s modified salmon are currently raised in Indiana, making it unlikely that they would escape to the sea, a company spokesperson claims. AquaBounty also practices significant biosecurity protocols and has safety nets above the tanks, and all the salmon being raised are sterile females, the spokesperson says.

AquaBounty spent more than a decade trying to get approval from the FDA to sell the genetically modified salmon for human consumption in the US. When the agency approved the product, a coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups, represented by the Center for Food Safety and by Earthjustice, sued the FDA for not assessing the risks of the modified salmon escaping and harming endangered wild salmon.

The court’s decision “is a vital victory for endangered salmon and our oceans,” George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case, says in a statement. “Genetically engineered animals create novel risks and regulators must rigorously analyze them using sound science.”

AquaBounty can continue raising modified salmon while the FDA conducts an environmental assessment. The court ruling “will not have an impact on our on-going operations on Prince Edward Island, Canada to produce eggs or in the raising and selling of AquAdvantage salmon from our farm in Indiana,” AquaBounty president and CEO Sylvia Wulf says in a statement.

Genetically modified salmon has yet to reach retail shelves in the US, but AquaBounty is moving ahead with plans to launch its product there this year..



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