The Quinault Nation has joined a joint lawsuit filed in March by nearly a dozen environmental groups against the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for its approval of genetically modified salmon for consumption.
“This is clearly a case of FDA violating its mandate and purpose,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation and of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, as well as vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, in a statement. “It is FDA’s job to assure that the food and drugs people consume in this country are safe for people and the environment. The agency does not have the expertise to make this decision, and it apparently has little knowledge about the environmental impacts of these new genetically engineered animals.”
The FDA approved the altered animal, which is engineered to grow twice as large and mature much faster than regular salmon, last November. Numerous retail outlets said they’d never sell it.
The Yurok Tribe promptly passed a resolution banning genetically engineered organisms such as GMO corn or altered salmon from its territory.
In June, Health Canada also deemed the modified salmon fit for human consumption after a four-year study.
The initial lawsuit against the FDA was filed on March 30 by the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice on behalf of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merry Meeting Bay, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Ecology Action Centre, Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety.
The suit charges a lack of study about the effect of such salmon on wild stocks if the engineered version should escape; notes the decided environmental footprint of creating the eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada, raising them to adulthood in Panama and shipping them back to the U.S. and Canada, and questions the legal basis, derived from 1930s’ law allowing the FDA to create veterinary medicines.
“FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy, a co-counsel for plaintiffs, in the plaintiffs’ statement. “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.”
The Quinault Indian Nation joined the 11 other plaintiffs, saying that the FDA had overstepped its bounds in approving this “unnatural animal created by AquaBounty from the genetic material of three fish, Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon and ocean eel pout.”
The potential for the modified fish to escape and mingle with wild salmon could hurt fish stocks and in so doing would infringe on treaty rights, Sharp said.
“Although there are obvious risks to our salmon, the Food and Drug Administration surged forward with its approval,” Sharp said. “The agency didn’t consider treaty rights. It didn’t even involve federal wildlife agencies. It simply did not consider how these man-created animals, engineered to grow twice as big as natural salmon, will affect the fish provided to us by our Creator. All they heard was very flimsy assurance from AquaBounty that their ‘Frankenfish’ would not escape—something that has been disproved many times.”