F.D.A. Hearing Focuses on the Labeling of Genetically Engineered Salmon
ROCKVILLE, Md. — So what do you call a salmon that is genetically engineered to grow fast?
If it is allowed to be sold in supermarkets, some consumer and environmental groups want it to be labeled as just that — so the engineered salmon cannot be mistaken for the regular fish. But the Food and Drug Administration says such a label might not be possible under its regulations.
The labeling issue was the focus of a daylong hearing here Tuesday as the F.D.A. considers whether to approve the sale of the genetically engineered salmon, which grow to market size in about half the time as regular salmon.
If approved, the salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the American food supply. The F.D.A. made no ruling on the labeling, but officials made clear that the agency was not permitted to change the label on a food merely because it was genetically engineered. The food itself must be different — in its taste, nutrition or safety, for example. For the same reason, no labels about genetic engineering appear on the many foods now sold that contain genetically modified corn and soybeans.
The consumer groups, which do not want the salmon approved at all, disputed the F.D.A.’s interpretation of the regulations. The groups also said that in an era in which people pay more attention to the sources of their food, they had a right to know when a product was genetically engineered.
“The least you can do if you put these products on the market is to let consumers decide for themselves, and you need labeling to do that,” said Patricia Lovera of Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group. “Every trend in the food industry shows consumers want more information, not less.”
But AquaBounty Technologies, the Boston-area company that developed the salmon, suggested that a “genetically engineered” label would be akin to a skull and crossbones, killing sales. Elliot Entis, a founder of AquaBounty, said critics were trying to “delegitimize the product through labeling.”
Some representatives of the food and biotechnology industries supported the F.D.A.’s policy about labeling. “The food label is not a playground for every bit of information someone wants to know,” said David B. Schmidt, president of the International Food Information Council, an industry group.
If there were no requirement to label the fish, AquaBounty or companies that market its fish could voluntarily label it. It is more likely, however, that other fish companies would want to label their products as not being genetically engineered.
But the F.D.A. has said even that labeling could run into roadblocks. Labeling must not be false and misleading, such as by implying that the nonengineered fish was in some way superior to the engineered fish. The agency has stopped some milk producers from labeling their product as coming from cows not injected with bovine growth hormoneunless they include a statement that the F.D.A. had found that there is no difference between milk from treated and untreated cows.
The timetable for approval of the salmon is not clear.
In a meeting Monday, F.D.A. advisers faulted some studies the agency used to conclude that the salmon was safe for people and the environment, though they did not say the fish was dangerous. If the F.D.A. were to now order AquaBounty Technologies to do more studies, any approval could be delayed by months.
What's for dinner? Frankenfish or cloned cow? So many things to choose from that isn't studied and without a doubt will change our DNA and destroy this generation.