On November 5, 2020, a federal court ruled in favor of Cascadia Wildlands’ lawsuit that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core federal laws when it approved the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) animal: a GE salmon! This decision is a huge victory for wild salmon, the environment, and our fishing communities.
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The court ruled that FDA failed to analyze the serious risks to endangered salmon and other environmental impacts of this novel GE fish. The court declared FDA’s failures violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Genetically engineered animals create unique risks and regulators must rigorously analyze them using sound science, not stick their head in the sand as the officials did here. In reality, this engineered fish offers nothing but unstudied risks. The absolute last thing our planet needs right now is another human-created crisis like escaped genetically engineered fish running amok.
The most important part of the court’s decision yesterday was its resounding rejection of FDA’s far-reaching argument that the agency had no duty to protect against the environmental impacts of the GE salmon, or any future GE animal. Thanks to our lawsuit, FDA has to make a new GE salmon decision that accounts for and protects against those dangers. And it has to do the same for any future GE animals.
Yesterday’s victory was the result of over 4 years of hard-fought litigation: In 2016, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice — representing Cascadia Wildlands and a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial, and recreational fishing organizations — sued the FDA for approving the first-ever commercial genetically engineered animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its wild counterpart. The genetically engineered salmon was produced by AquaBounty Technologies Inc. with DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic Ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a commercially genetically engineered animal as food.
Studies have shown that there is a high risk for genetically engineered organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that genetically engineered salmon can crossbreed with native fish. “Transgenic contamination” — where genetically engineered crops cross-pollinate or establish themselves in nearby fields or the wild — has become common. These contamination episodes have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade. In wild organisms like fish, the damage would be even severe.
Currently there are no genetically engineered fish being sold in the U.S., and if any fish were to be sold, it would be required to be labeled as genetically engineered. And thanks to pressure from Cascadia Wildlands members like you, dozens of retailers such as Kroger have already pledged to NOT sell GE salmon!