FDA won't require special label for genetically modified salmon

The Squaxin Island Tribe of Washington honors wild salmon during the First Salmon Ceremony. Photo from Northwest Treaty Tribes / Facebook

The Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically modified salmon on Thursday, the first decision of its kind in the United States.

A Massachusetts company called AquaBounty takes eggs from Atlantic salmon and inserts a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and another gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like species. The resulting fish are raised in Canada and Panama and can grow to large sizes in 18 months instead of three years for wild or hatchery salmon.

Despite the changes to the fish, the FDA determined that the food is safe to eat. The decision was based on "extensive data" submitted by the company itself and other "peer-reviewed data," the agency said.

“The FDA has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty Technologies regarding AquAdvantage Salmon and determined that they have met the regulatory requirements for approval, including that food from the fish is safe to eat,” Bernadette Dunham, the director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a press release.

The FDA's decision means the salmon can be presented to consumers without special labels that indicate how it was produced. That drew a strong rebuke from Alaska's Congressional delegation, where the fish remains a strong part of tribal culture and represents a major component of the state's subsistence and commercial economies.

“I am livid at the FDA’s announcement to approve genetically engineered ‘salmon’—what seems to be more science experiment than fish or food," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a press release.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs, has introduced H.R.394, the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States Act. The bill effectively bans the sale and import of any genetically modified salmon.

Young is also sponsoring the H.R.393, a bill to require labeling for genetically engineered salmon. Neither measure has advanced very far in the 114th Congress.

"This harebrained decision goes to show that our federal agencies are incapable of using common sense," Young said yesterday.

On the other hand, Republicans in the House pushed H.R.1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, to a vote in July. The bill creates federal guidelines for companies that wish to voluntarily disclose their genetically modified foods and bars states from developing and enacting their own labeling laws.

An amendment that would have recognized tribal authority over genetically engineered foods was rejected during consideration of the bill. The National Congress of American Indians, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and tribes in Alaska have all called on the federal government to reject genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.

To address some of the concerns on the issue, the FDA released voluntary guidelines to companies that produce genetically engineered foods. One applies to salmon products and another to plants.

“AquAdvantage Salmon is a game-changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats," Ronald L. Stotish, the chief executive officer of AquaBounty, said in a press release. "Using land-based aquaculture systems, this rich source of protein and other nutrients can be farmed close to major consumer markets in a more sustainable manner.”

Get the Story:
The FDA just approved the nation’s first genetically engineered animal: A salmon that grows twice as fast (The Washington Post 11/19)
Genetically Engineered Salmon Will Not Be Labeled (The New York Times 11/20)
What’s for dinner? Genetically engineered salmon OK’d by FDA (AP 11/20)

An Opinion:
Tamar Haspel: If the GMO salmon is as good as its maker says, why not label it? (The Washington Post 11/19)

Related Stories
Lawmakers raise tribal concerns in genetic foods controversy (08/06)
FDA holds public hearing on plan for genetically modified salmon (9/21)

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines