A federal judge ruled on Thursday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had illegally approved a breed of genetically engineered salmon without conducting sufficient studies on the effects they could have on natural species.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015, the FDA agreed to give AquaBounty Technologies the freedom to produce the modified sea creature. The fish is an Atlantic salmon mixed with a Pacific salmon’s growth hormone gene and an eelpout’s DNA. The infused genetics allow the new breed of fish to grow twice as fast as wild salmon.
The production of the eggs is being conducted on Prine Edward Island. The company originally cultivated the fish in Panama but later transferred operations to Indiana. The move was made in anticipation of future commercial sale in the United States.
The FDA approved the engineered breed of fish after ruling that they posed no danger to other wild species. The administration allowed AquaBounty Technologies to nurture the fish inside landlocked facilities and ensure they had no possibility of escaping.
However, San Francisco’s Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the government agency overlooked the potential dangers and effects the modified breed could cause to natural salmon if they were to find a way to escape.
Chhabria said the new fish could directly mate with natural species or simply fight against them for resources. Despite the unlikelihood of the fishes fleeing the facilities, the FDA was still required to assess the possible aftereffects of such events. Especially since it knew that AquaBounty’s facilities were expected to grow and expand rapidly, the judge said, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Several scientists have urged the FDA to conduct a full assessment of the effects the engineered breed could have on wild species. Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda said that the agency did not consider the risks. He noted that officials relied on the assumption that the genetically modified creature would not be able to escape the facilities.
Chhabria ordered the federal agency to coordinate with other resource agencies to study and assess the possible risks the engineered fish could bring to wild salmon.
Mashuda said that the FDA going back to study the environmental effects of the modified fish is the first step. He added that the agency would then realize that they need to conduct far more research before giving continuous approval to the production of the breed, KFSK reported.
Recently, AquaBounty Technologies announced that it had selected Mayfield, Kentucky, as the next location of its planned land-based salmon farm. It would become the first large-scale commercial facility for genetically modified salmon. The facility’s size is expected to be eight times that of the farm currently located in Indiana.
The company’s CEO, Sylvia Wulf, said they conducted tests and surveillance and found the area to be a suitable location for their third salmon farm. She added that the region provided the company with a convenient and healthy environment, the Sea Food Source reported.
However, Chhabria’s ruling effectively postpones AquaBounty’s expansion to the area until the FDA successfully complies with the court’s requirements. Wulf shared the company’s disappointment on Thursday but reassured it would not hinder its production on its two existing farms.
Wulf’s statement added that AquaBounty took every precaution to ensure that its products are safe for the public. She said that the company was excited about its expansion but would not sacrifice its consumers’ security.
Wild salmon is considered one of Alaska’s top exports, and the introduction of the genetically modified breed is seen as a threat to both the international market and environmental species.