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FDA bans the import of GM fish until labelling laws in place, a process that could take years

PEI Frankenfish protest

Sharon Labchuk, Mary Boyd and Council of Canadians vice-chairperson Leo Broderick protest outside AquaBounty’s facility in Bay Fortune, Nov. 19, 2015. Photo by V. Broderick.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert banning the import of genetically modified (GM) salmon just months after approving it safe to eat.

The CBC has previously reported, “The fish are genetically modified to grow at twice the rate of regular salmon.” The Washington Post has explained, “AquAdvantage, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish. The result is a fish that is large enough for consumption in about a year and a half, rather than the typical three years.” And CBC adds, “The eggs for the salmon are raised in a facility in the eastern P.E.I. community of Bay Fortune and exported to Panama, where they’re grown in above-ground tanks.” 

Now, FIS reports, “Last November, the FDA had given green light to AquaBounty Technologies Inc. to start marketing its AquAdvantage salmon [as a food product]. This new restriction [by] the agency follows [the FY 2016 omnibus spending bill] that became law on 18 December by which FDA must issue the new guidelines before the fish can be sold.” APRN adds, “The agency, citing bill language, says it can’t allow the fish to be sold as food until it writes consumer labeling guidelines. There’s no word yet on when the FDA expects to have those guidelines completed.”

The Washington Post reports that finalizing how the fish would be labelled is “a process that potentially could take years”. It adds, “The effort marks a victory – though perhaps a temporary one – for activists and commercial fishermen who have raised concerns about whether the AqauaBounty fish is safe to eat and whether potential environmental harms could result if any of the modified salmon made their way into ocean waters and mated with wild salmon.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) says, “[The alert] is a huge step in our fight against ‘Frankenfish’.”

It was Murkowski who pushed for the language in the omnibus spending bill. She has also been stalling on the appointment of Robert Califf, currently the deputy commissioner of the US FDA, as the agency’s new commissioner as a way to get an assurance that genetically modified salmon would be labelled as such (a measure the FDA did not require when it approved GM fish safe for consumption).

In Nov. 2015, Health Canada confirmed that it is reviewing the possible sale of genetically modified salmon as food in Canada. 

The Council of Canadians has opposed genetically modified salmon for years, for more on that please click here.

Further reading
Council of Canadians opposes FDA approval of genetically-modified salmon as food (Nov. 19, 2015)