FDA must study what happens if GMO salmon escape, says judge

Chhabria said the FDA was obliged under two environmental laws to assess the consequences of a successful escape.

A federal judge in San Francisco ordered the FDA on Thursday to take a new and stronger look at the potential consequences on native salmon if AquaBounty’s fast-growing GMO salmon escaped from fish farms and established itself in the wild. District Judge Vince Chhabria left in place the FDA’s 2015 approval of the salmon, the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption, while the new research is conducted.

George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, one of the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit seeking to vacate the agency’s approval of the salmon, said the groups “will be considering our appeal options.”

“The approval is by definition an unlawful one,” said Kimbrell, because the FDA did not consider what would happen to native salmon or to oceans if the GMO salmon escaped from fish farms and created a self-sustaining population in the wild. “Novel GE animals will not escape review. Their environmental risks will have to be considered and protected against.”

Chhabria said the FDA was obliged under two environmental laws to assess the consequences of a successful escape. The FDA concluded that the salmon were unlikely to escape from the fish farms where they would be housed, and that if they escaped, they would be unlikely to survive. “Even if this scenario was unlikely, the FDA was still required to assess the consequences of it coming to pass,” the judge wrote. “This is especially true because the FDA knew that the company’s salmon operations would likely grow, with additional facilities being used for farming.”

AquaBounty chief executive Sylvia Wulf said the decision would not affect operations on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where the company produces salmon eggs, or the raising of AquAdvantage salmon on a farm in Indiana. “We are committed to working with FDA on next steps and continue to evaluate the legal decision.”

The court decision is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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