Eleven senators are asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to halt the pending approval of genetically modified salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies, which would be the first GM animal approved for human consumption.

The group of senators, including several from coastal states, sent a letter to the FDA yesterday requesting the agency “halt all proceedings” related to the approval of the hybrid salmon, which adds genes from a Chinook salmon and an eelpout to Atlantic salmon to halve the time needed to grow the fish to full size.

“There are a number of serious concerns with the current approval process and many potential human health and environmental risks that are associated with producing GE fish have not been fully or openly reviewed,” reads the letter.  “Critical information has been kept from the public and consequently, only FDA and AquaBounty know important details about the approval process for this [genetically-engineered] salmon, or the product itself.”

Alaska Senators Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, Washington state’s two Democrat Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkeley, both Democrats, all signed the letter.

The Washington D.C.-based Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch circulated a list yesterday with more than 50 consumer and environmental groups that support the Senate letter, including: the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Sierra Club, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, and PCC Natural Markets, a Pacific Northwest natural foods retail chain.

The letter blasts the agency for its approval process.  “One of the most serious concerns regarding AquaBounty’s application is the FDA has no adequate process to review a [genetically-engineered] animal intended as a human food product,” the letter states.  “FDA is considering this [genetically-engineered] fish through its process for reviewing a new drug to be used by animals, not for creation of a  new animal, especially one intended for human consumption.  Clearly, this is inappropriate.”

The letter suggests that the salmon should undergo a formal evaluation by FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to explore any potential health affects on humans, and criticizes the agency for not holding hearings on the issue “in a more central location and with outreach to regions dependent on wild salmon production.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders (VT), Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Sen. Jon Tester (MT) also signed the letter.

The FDA has not released a final decision on the issue, but is expected to ultimately approve the salmon for consumption.