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GE fish? Politicians push FDA to say no—for now

Eleven senators encourage the Food and Drug Administration to withhold approval of the first genetically modified animal for human consumption, garnering support from food-safety advocates.

Eleven senators encouraged the Food and Drug Administration yesterday to withhold approval of the first genetically modified animal for human consumption, garnering support from food safety advocates.

Mark Begich (D-Alaska) along with 10 senators primarily from coastal states sent a letter to the FDA questioning the health and environmental risks of the fish as well as the process for public comment.

Greg Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, supports the senators’ call for a more open regulatory process. The current process allows the FDA to evaluate health research on the fish and approve it behind closed doors under the grounds that it is classified business information.

“Clearly we agree that the current process is not ideal,” Jaffe said. “The process is not particularly participatory or transparent. The FDA is not allowed to discuss applications in front of them and we can’t see all the safety data that’s presented. Only in the final hour does the public receive any information.”

The GE salmon grows twice as fast a regular salmon and was created by Waltham, Mass.-based AquaBounty Technologies using a gene from an eel-like ocean pout and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon.

Consumer groups are also concerned over the relative health safety of consuming the fish.

“The FDA is reviewing data submitted by AquaBounty, but their buff salmon might have higher levels of a cancer promoting hormone IGF-1, more antibiotics and more potentially life-threatening allergens,” said Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. “Has the FDA gone completely mad? Why are they trying to open the flood gates to a GE salmon—a move that will go down as one of the most asinine and dangerous ever made by our government?”

The senators’ letter also states that FDA is incorrectly evaluating the GE salmon with the same procedure used to evaluate animal drugs and not as a new animal for humans to consume. 

In addition to Begich, the senators who signed the letter were Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernard Sanders(I-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden(D-Ore.), Patrick J. Leahy(D-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand(D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski(D-Md.), Jeff Merkley(D-Ore.) and Jon Tester(D-Mont.).

A spokesman for the FDA said the agency will “respond directly to the members of Congress.”

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