The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is not known for good decisions, but they got this one right. A couple of weeks ago they denied the FDA’s latest attempt to hide thousands of pages of key government documents related to the agency’s approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption.
That’s right. You read it correctly. Genetically engineered salmon are now destined for a place on your grocers counter and you will never know it. The FDA did not want the public to know details of the approval process gone through by the agency charged with the responsibility of keeping our food supply safe. Trust us, they said. The FDA did not want you to know why they approved an engineered salmon that contains DNA from the Atlantic salmon, the deep water ocean eelpout, and the Pacific Chinook salmon. This would be the first time any genetically engineered animal has been approved for commercial sale and ultimate human consumption.
What is the big deal about this fish? It is different. The GE version is intended to grow faster than conventionally farmed or wild-caught salmon. The reason: new DNA has been engineered in. The new DNA is a growth hormone gene that is turned on all the time. The GE salmon is claimed to get to commercial size in half the time. Further, it is claimed by the FDA to not be significantly different from wild-caught or farm raised salmon. The truth: it may look the same from the outside, but it is different genetically.
One big concern is if the GE fish were to escape into the wild. It could threaten wild salmon populations by out-competing them for scarce resources and habitat, by mating with endangered salmon species, and by introducing new diseases. The FDA has been heavily criticized for failing to fully evaluate these potential impacts. The developers claim these concerns are meaningless because the GE fish are to be sterile females all raised in confinement tanks. Even that raises additional questions. How are the GE fish becoming 100% female?
In short, the FDA wants to hide. The pubic has a right to know in detail how the agency came to its approval decision for genetically engineered salmon, especially because the FDA’s approach will likely serve as a precedent for the assessment of future GE food animals. The FDA is funded by tax dollars which means the records they create can and should be available to the public and to citizens seeking to know all. The only exceptions should be withholding information critical to national security.
Under the court ruling, the FDA is required to fully complete the record with all relevant documents regarding its approval of genetically engineered salmon. In this case, the public right to know is being protected. It is vital all government agencies get the message hiding is not acceptable. Are you listening EPA and USDA?