Tag Archives: labeling

Suit challenges approval of genetically engineered salmon

A coalition of environmental, consumer and fishing organizations this week sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving a genetically engineered Atlantic salmon designed to grow quickly.

The man-made salmon was created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc. using DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon and Arctic ocean eelpout.

The coalition said the FDA is the first government agency to approve a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption.

The coalition, represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, includes Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands and Center for Food Safety.

The groups said that by approving the GE salmon, the FDA determined it would not require labeling of the GE fish to let consumers know what they are buying, which led Congress to call for labeling in the 2016 omnibus spending bill.

The GE salmon from AquaBounty will travel about 5,000 miles to reach U.S. supermarkets. The company will produce the GE salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The GE salmon will then be grown to market-size in a facility in Panama, processed into fillets and shipped to the United States.

Later, AquaBounty plans to grow GE fish in the United States for global sales.

The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The coalition contends the law was meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and  not intended to address entirely new GE animals. The approval of the GE salmon also opens the door to other genetically engineered fish and shellfish, as well as chickens, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs that are reportedly in development.

The lawsuit also accuses the FDA of failing to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law.

Atlantic salmon and many populations of Pacific salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act and in danger of extinction. Salmon is a keystone species and unique runs have been treasured by residents for thousands of years. Diverse salmon runs today sustain thousands of American fishing families, and are highly valued in domestic markets as a healthy, domestic, “green” food.

When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. Studies have shown that there is a high risk for GE organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that GE salmon can crossbreed with native fish. Transgenic contamination has become common in the GE plant context, where contamination episodes have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade.  In wild organisms like fish, it could be even more damaging.

Statements from the coalition on the GE salmon suit

George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety: “FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible. This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish, harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”

Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy: “FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape. We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard. We are talking about the mass production of a highly migratory GE fish that could threaten some of the last remaining wild salmon on the planet. This isn’t the time to skimp on analysis and simply hope for the best.”

Ed Friedman from Friends of Merrymeeting Bay: “Atlantic salmon populations including our endangered Gulf of Maine fish are hanging on by a thread – they can’t afford additional threats posed by GE salmon. The law requires agencies like FDA, who aren’t fisheries biologists, to get review and approval from scientists with that expertise. FDA’s refusal to do this before allowing commercialization of GE salmon is not only irresponsible, it violates the law.”

Mark Butler, policy director at Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia: “On Prince Edward Island and across Atlantic Canada, indigenous peoples, anglers and community groups are working hard to protect and restore endangered salmon populations and rivers. Genetic contamination threatens all this work and in return there is little or no economic benefit to the region.”

Golden Gate Salmon Association executive director John McManus: “There’s never been a farmed salmon that hasn’t eventually escaped into the natural environment. Why should we believe that long term, these frankenfish won’t be the same?”

Dune Lankard, a salmon fisherman and the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska representative: “Once they escape, you can’t put these transgenic fish back in the bag. They’re manufactured to outgrow wild salmon, and if they cross-breed, it could have irreversible impacts on the natural world. This kind of dangerous tinkering could easily morph into a disaster for wild salmon that will be impossible to undo.”

Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands: “FDA’s action threatens and disrespects the wild salmon ecosystems, cultures and industries that are treasured here in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. These folks think a salmon is just a packet of protein, but we in Salmon Nation know better. From Alaska to California, Americans are intimately related with diverse runs of salmon and we’ve learned their unique attributes and incredible value. We’ve worked very hard to be good stewards of our natural heritage, and refuse to allow that to be undone by one company’s irresponsible experiment.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch: “The FDA has failed to adequately examine the risks associated with transgenic salmon. The long-term effects of people eating genetically modified foods have never been adequately addressed—and this GE salmon is no exception. This fish is unnecessary, so why take the risk?”

Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth: “It’s clear that the market has rejected GE salmon despite FDA’s reckless approval. Major retailers including Costco, Safeway and Kroger won’t sell it and polls show the vast majority of people don’t want to eat it. Yet under this approval it won’t be labeled, violating our fundamental right to know what we are feeding our families.”

House approves Dark Act against GMO labeling

The House of Representatives on July 23 passed the Dark Act, a bill that would preempt state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered foods.

The bill, backed largely by House Republicans, would codify a voluntary labeling system approach, block the FDA from implementing mandatory GE food labeling and allow food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients.

The bill passed 275-150.

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

As written, H.R. 1599 has sweeping preemptive effect, which could negate more than 130 existing statutes, regulations and ordinances in 43 states at the state and municipal level. The measure would remove local governments’ ability to enact measures to address the specific locality’s cultural, agricultural and ecological concerns — issues that have long been recognized as falling under local governments’ traditional powers.

More than 300 farmer, consumer and environmental groups opposed the bill in a letter to Congress. The nation’s second largest farming group, the National Farmers Union, also opposed the bill.

“This is yet again a reminder of how out of touch a majority of members in the House of Representatives are with the values and needs of the American public,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs for the CFS. “Any representative that voted to keep their constituents in the dark will not only have to answer to the Food Movement, they will have to answer to a lot of angry constituents at town hall meetings over the August recess.”

A Senate version of this bill has not yet been introduced.

An opposing bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This common sense bill would guarantee all Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.

More than 60 countries require GE food labeling and have not reported higher food costs as a result. More than 30 states introduced legislation to require GE labeling in 2013 and 2014, with laws recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

Food company execs call on Congress to mandate GMO labeling

Top executives from Ben & Jerry’s, Chipotle, Stonyfield Farm, Patagonia and other companies on May 20 urged Congress to oppose legislation designed to block labeling of GMO foods and called instead for mandatory national GMO labeling.

Three states have passed GMO labeling laws and 17 other states are considering similar measures. But U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., has introduced federal legislation — dubbed the DARK Act — to block state laws and make it harder for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop a national GMO labeling solution.

Despite massive spending against GMO labeling by some food and biotechnology companies, a recent national survey by the Mellman Group found significant support for mandatory labeling of GMO-foods among both Democrats and Republicans. 

Overall, 88 percent of American voters said they support mandatory GMO labeling.

Moreover, the survey found that large supermajority levels of support for requiring GMO labels transcend party lines, with 86 percent of Republicans and independents joining 93 percent of Democrats in support of GMO labels.

The level of support for labels is not surprising in light of another finding: 87 percent of American voters say it is “important” that foods which have been genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients be labeled. This view is also widespread across party lines, with 90 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Republicans, and 85 percent of independents in agreement on that point.

“As this latest public opinion poll shows, by a wide margin, Americans strongly support a nationwide labeling law of foods that have been genetically engineered,” said Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm and founder of Just Label It. “When Republicans, Democrats and independents come together with this level of support for a single issue, Congress should listen. It clearly shows that the vast majority of the public believes they have a right to know what’s in their food and how it was grown.”

A recent finding that the main herbicide used in combination with GMO crops is “probably carcinogenic to humans” has lent new momentum to efforts to require GMO labeling.

“The biotech industry has played a central role in the nation’s pesticide treadmill,” Hirshberg added. “This toxic, probable carcinogen is such a mainstay of genetically engineered agriculture, it’s now found in rainwater, air and soil. Some recent tests have even detected it in infant formula and breast milk samples. Concerned consumers should be permitted to know which foods are contributing to this explosion in use of glyphosate.”

U.S. Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., joined a news conference with a group of executives that included Jerry Greenfield, co- founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream; Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family; Joshua Brau, Food with Integrity program manager for Chipotle; Rose Macario, CEO of Patagonia; and Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm and Just Label It.

Coalition urges Senate to reject push to weaken country of origin labeling

A coalition of 207 farm, faith, environmental, labor, rural and consumer organizations this week urged the U.S. Senate to reject any effort to repeal, rescind or weaken country of origin labeling — COOL — in any federal spending legislation.

“Congress needs to stay the course on COOL and leave it alone, especially now that the Obama administration has appealed the current decision to the WTO,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “COOL has been embraced by consumers who want to know where their food comes from and by family farmers who are proud to provide that information.”

Congress enacted COOL in both the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills and chose to expand COOL coverage to additional products such as venison in the 2014 Farm Bill. The World Trade Organization has been considering a dispute over COOL since 2008. At each stage of the dispute, the trade body has been increasingly receptive to the legitimacy of the COOL labels. The broad-based coalition of groups represented on the letter demonstrates the strong support for COOL from all sectors of the food system.

“U.S. consumers overwhelmingly support country of origin labeling,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “In fact, they want even more information about the source of their meat including where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Congress should not deny consumers this important information.”

COOL is being attacked by a coalition of special interests including the meat industry, food processing companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. These interest groups want the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to rescind or suspend COOL before the WTO dispute process has been completed.

“Congress should not unconditionally surrender to the special interest saber-rattling on COOL,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “Congress should not short circuit the WTO process at the behest of the meatpackers and their special interest allies.”

In late November, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it would appeal the most recent stage in the dispute, a move likely to extend the timeline of the dispute by many months.

The coalition members maintain that there are strong grounds for a successful appeal because the WTO overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits of the labels. Further, they say, the WTO inappropriately suggested that COOL caused declining livestock exports to the United States, but the economic downturn was a greater cause of the change in exports and in recent years exports have been soaring, even with COOL requirements in place. 

“As livestock producers and consumers, our members stand strong in our commitment to COOL and urge our Congressional representatives to support the pending appeal and let the process proceed,” said Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.