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On the Brink of Irrelevancy: Is the Honeymoon Over for FDA and GMO Salmon?

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a shockingly favorable regulatory review on AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered salmon, offering preliminary determinations that the fish are healthy, of little threat to the environment and safe to eat.  


The scientific community skewered the agency’s far-reaching, short-sighted determinations, while hundreds of thousands of consumers stated clearly they wouldn’t eat the slow-growing, sickly, escape-prone fish.

Here we are in 2014 and, as the world turns, it increasingly turns against AquaBounty’s GMO salmon. Many of the nation’s largest conventional grocers—including Kroger, Safety, Target, HEB, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Marsh, and dozens of others—have said they won’t sell AquaBounty’s GMO salmon even if the FDA does approve it. This list of stores, which continues to grow, already represents close to half of the nation’s retail grocery sales.  

This means that even if FDA were to approve GMO salmon today, by the time the first fillets hit the stores (AquaBounty says 2016), there very well may not be a single retail outlet willing to stock GMO salmon. And polls show again and again and again that consumers will avoid GMO fish if they can, though that depends on whether FDA requires labeling. 

This leaves consumers to think hard about the grossly mistaken path that the FDA has walked; the agency’s incremental efforts to approve GMO salmon over the last four years have moved FDA and AquaBounty to the very brink of irrelevancy. Though there is clearly no market and no appetite for this fish, which would be the first biotech food animal to enter the food supply, the FDA continues to spend precious resources trying to approve it.

AquaBounty, meanwhile, has watched its stock plummet as much as 35 percent in the last three months. Last week, the company organized another bailout from its largest investor. Meanwhile, the company’s operations are threatened by two legal challenges, one in Panama and one in Canada

And AquaBounty now says it is considering growing GMO fish as a vertically integrated company instead of simply selling salmon eggs to independent growers, who would bring the fish to market. This big change in direction may reflect resistance in the salmon industry, where growers have long doubted the benefits of this fish and stated they won’t grow it.

As the retail market bottoms out, salmon growers distance themselves from AquaBounty and consumers continue to say no to GMO salmon, it’s extremely difficult to see on whose behalf the FDA is fighting except the tiny group of stakeholders from AquaBounty and the biotech industry.

Isn’t it about time that FDA read the writing on the wall and end the million-dollar regulatory review of AquaBounty’s failed experiment? Isn’t it time we put taxpayer resources and the public interest back at the top of the priority list for the FDA? 

Read more about GMO salmon here.

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