Don’t Put a Fork in It

Despite consumer opposition, the FDA is one step away from approving genetically engineered salmon.

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter

While most Americans were enjoying the holiday season or stressing out over the nation’s imminent leap off the so-called fiscal cliff, the Food and Drug Administration delivered some big news as quietly as possible.

On December 21, the agency announced that AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon had cleared the final hurdle before clinching FDA approval.

Despite insufficient testing and widespread consumer opposition, AquaBounty’s food experiment is dangerously close to becoming the first genetically engineered animal produced for human consumption. Yes, a newfangled fish may soon land on a dinner plate near you.

For those who have been following this news for the past several years, the timing of the FDA’s release of its draft environmental assessment — the Friday before Christmas — was no surprise. But the news was still frightening: The FDA may give this transgenic animal the green light under a new approval process that treats the fish as an “animal drug.”

Prefer your salmon without those eel genes spliced into its DNA? Pay close attention because this frankenfish may hit the market without any sort of label.

It seems that AquaBounty and the FDA don’t believe consumers deserve the right to know whether the fish we eat is genetically engineered. Those who have demanded labeling for genetically engineered food will be unable to identify this transgenic salmon from standard farm-raised varieties.

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Not only does this ignore our fundamental right to know what we are putting on our plates, it’s also a bad business decision. It’s entirely possible that many Americans will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered.

AquaBounty, the biotech company responsible for bringing us this fishy salmon, used its own data to convince the FDA that it is safe to eat. But AquaBounty’s profits are inextricably linked to approval of this salmon. It’s outrageous that the FDA would take AquaBounty’s word over that of dozens of lawmakers and scientists, including experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service, not to mention thousands of concerned consumers.

The FDA has the difficult task of protecting consumer safety, but it’s hard to take it seriously when it comes to genetically engineered salmon. So far, they’ve failed to conduct the appropriate studies to determine if the fish is safe to eat. Independent scientists have skewered the FDA’s process, noting that serious environmental concerns have not been examined while food safety issues related to hormone levels and allergies have been glossed over.

Even AquaBounty’s claim of faster growth rates is suspect. The company hasn’t yet demonstrated that its transgenic salmon can grow faster than salmon without its new traits. And that’s the whole reason they say it should be approved. SalmoBreed AS, a Norwegian company specializing in the selective breeding of Atlantic salmon, has directly challenged AquaBounty on this point.

By releasing an environmental assessment instead of a more thorough environmental impact statement, the FDA has failed to fully consider the threat this controversial new fish could pose to wild fish populations.

While the FDA is close to approving genetically engineered salmon for consumers, Congress can still keep them from unleashing this dangerous experiment. Consumers don’t have million-dollar accounts with K Street lobbyists, but we do have a powerful voice of opposition, one that has effectively put the brakes on this untested laboratory experiment for more than two years. Members of Congress are speaking out against this controversial fish. Let your elected officials know you don’t want this frankenfish on your plate. Visit Foodandwaterwatch.org to find out how.


Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch. www.foodandwaterwatch.org Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

The Election Is Over, But Our Work Is Just Beginning

—by Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

Last night, I and many others breathed a sigh of relief as voters rejected a vision for our country that would have taken our economy, environmental regulations and consumer protections back to the 1920s. However, we cannot sit back and assume that protections for our food and water will improve. Rather, we need to take lessons from the last four years and redouble our organizing efforts to press the Obama administration, Congress and state legislatures across the country to keep our food safe and our water in public hands.

If there is one overarching lesson this election taught us, it’s that getting organized CAN overcome industry money in elections. Two ballot measures that Food & Water Watch worked on this cycle illustrate the need and power of organizing, even in the face of entrenched and powerful interests.

One of the most exciting victories from election night was in Longmont, Colorado, where voters passed an historic and precedent-setting ballot initiative to ban fracking. We were up against incredible odds in Longmont, with the oil and gas industry spending over half-a-million dollars for TV commercials, full-page ads and multiple mailers to try to scare Longmont citizens. Governor Hickenlooper sued the citizens of Longmont to slow down our efforts, and the Denver Post editorialized against this vote to ban fracking, but we were on the ground, knocking on doors, talking to voters and doing the hard work to support a citizen-led effort to protect our health, safety and property, and the citizens of Longmont still spoke loud and clear. We won with 60% of the vote!

We also worked hard in California with many of our allies to pass Proposition 37, which would require labeling for all genetically engineered foods. This popular measure was only narrowly defeated at the polls, due in large part to the massive spending by large chemical and junk food companies, which outspent our side by over $40 million.Despite this loss, support for GE food labels has never been stronger, and we will continue to build a robust national grassroots campaign to push for mandatory labeling across the country.

These measures prove what we already know: An educated and mobilized citizenry can fight back the corporate control of our common resources, but our work is far from over.

Right now, our policy experts are still sorting out what this election means for every issue we work on. I’m going to be giving a live telephone town hall meeting this Friday at 2 p.m. EST, and I want you to join me so you can hear our more detailed analysis of what this election means for your food and water, and you can ask me questions.
 
Protecting our water resources and making our food safe is challenging no matter which political party is in office. The truth is, because corporations have so much influence in our political and regulatory systems, we have to educate and mobilize citizens to build the power we need to hold our newly elected officials accountable. 

We believe there is a role for strong government regulations over corporations that are abusing our essential food and water resources. Only time will tell if the newly elected Congress can get anything done during the next session, but we know we will need your help to make sure that existing regulations for our food system, the environment and the energy industry are strengthened, not weakened. Among the issues that we will be calling upon you to be involved in are banning fracking and labeling genetically engineered foods at the local, state and national level.

Join me to talk about what the election means for our food and water

I hope to speak with you on Friday:
http://act.foodandwaterwatch.org/site/Survey?SURVEY_ID=3962&ACTION_REQUIRED=URI_ACTION_USER_REQUESTS

Thanks for taking action,

Wenonah Hauter
Executive Director—Food & Water Watch
act(at)fwwatch(dot)org