The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved genetically modified Salmon patented by a company called AquaBounty Technologies, which means it will start showing up in the market in two years or so. The New York Times reports:
“The F.D.A. has thoroughly analyzed and evaluated the data and information submitted by AquaBounty regarding the 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, director of the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement.
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine? That’s right, because
The F.D.A. regulates genetically engineered animals as veterinary drugs, using the argument that the gene inserted into the animal meets the definition of a drug. Critics have branded this an inadequate solution intended to squeeze a new technology into an old regulatory framework. They say the F.D.A. is not as qualified as other government agencies to do environmental assessments. The White House is now reviewing the entire framework for regulating genetically engineered products.
But not before approving genetically modified animals for human consumption. The Times quotes the sensible statement of Representative Don Young describing this as a “harebrained decision” that “goes to show that our federal agencies are incapable of using common sense”. It then adds:
But some scientists have dismissed these concerns. William Muir, a professor of animal sciences at Purdue University, said the fish posed no risk to the environment. “In contrast, the current practice of using wild caught salmon as a food source is not sustainable; our oceans are overfished,” he said in a statement. “This development provides a safe and sustainable alternative.”
Since the Times was quoting this scientist as though he was a credible independent voice, I decided to Google him. So who is William Muir? Why, none other than a consultant for the FDA and the guy the very same government that just approved the GMO salmon paid to develop the environmental risk assessment posed by it.
Muir reveals the assumption behind his approach:
Muir says that such an objective test to assess environmental risk could actually make biotechnology more readily accepted by those currently opposed to it, even if the model points out more problems.
“I think this model could be a first step to the acceptance of biotechnology,” Muir says. “Without having rules or a way of regulating or measuring risk, biotechnology will never be accepted.
So the goal is to have GMO foods “be accepted”. But people wouldn’t accept it without thinking that the government had a regulatory framework in place to protect them and keep them safe. So they developed one to make sure people feel safe.
Here’s another statement of his from a Purdue press release:
“We realize that any new technology can have risks, and those risks need to be assessed in a thorough and convincing manner,” Muir said. “However, once the assessment has been completed and the agency concludes from the weight of evidence that risks of harm, either to the environment or to consumers, is negligible, the next step, which is to allow production and sale of the product, needs to be taken.”
Note that yet again, that the GM fish would be approved was a foregone conclusion in his mind.
The Times quotes Muir saying the fish are safe for the environment. He isn’t an expert on whether the fish are safe for human consumption. Nor could he possibly be. That’s because there’s no such thing as an expert in this area because the proper studies have not been done.
Here’s Muir’s basis for stating that the fish are safe for human consumption from a letter of support from Muir for their product that AquaBounty boasts on its website:
“… the FDA publically stated that they found no issues regarding the safety of AquAdvantage salmon…”
The FDA says it’s safe; therefore it’s safe. But as is its practice, the FDA approved it based primarily on AquaBounty’s own claims about their product’s safety for human consumption.
The FDA says it also consulted “other peer-reviewed data”, but doesn’t seem keen on disclosing more than that. What studies? With what methodology? And what findings? Did they feed one group of animals the GE fish and a control group non-GE fish and compare health outcomes? Do any studies like this exist? Evidently not.
The FDA is regulating the GM salmon as a veterinary drug under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This Act requires foods to be properly labelled. But the government makes an exception in exempting GMOs from this requirement on the grounds that genetically modified “foods” are “substantially equivalent” to real foods and therefore don’t need to be labelled as being genetically modified.
Its assertion that the salmon is safe for human consumption isn’t based on safety studies. It’s based on an assumption that it’s safe that relies on this standard of “substantial equivalence”. In other words, the FDA asserts that the GE fish is “substantially equivalent” to non-GE fish and it is therefore simply presumed to be safe.
A bonobo chimpanzee has DNA “substantially equivalent” to your own, but I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t want to mate with one.