Washington, D.C.—Last month WholeFoods reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was giving signs it would approve the introduction of a genetically modified salmon product. Eleven senators from mostly coastal states have since tried to halt the approval process, urging FDA to consider the matter more closely before making a decision.

Lawmakers led by Senator Mark Begich (D–AK) sent a signed letter to FDA expressing concern over the safety of the salmon and the process being used to approve it. The letter, supported by at least 52 environmental groups, retailers and other interested parties, has caused FDA to postpone its decision on AquaBounty Technologies’ modified Atlantic salmon, which contain the growth gene of Chinook salmon and the anti-freeze gene of eels.

The letter reads in part, “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.”

The letter echoes earlier critiques which questioned the approval process. Referring to the fact that the salmon is up for review by the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, the letter states, “Clearly this is inappropriate. Creation of a new genetically engineered species should not be treated as an animal drug issue but undergo formal evaluation by FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.”

In addition to Begich, fellow Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski (R) signed the letter, as well as Senator Patrick Leahy (D–VT) and both senators from Washington and Oregon. Begich coined the term “Frankenfish” for the proposed salmon stock, which would be the first ever GMO in the U.S. food supply. Some analysts have indicated that, according to AquaBounty’s own data, the GMO fish may be less nutritious than other salmon, containing less omega-3 fatty acids. Critics point out it could open the floodgates for a slew of other GMO animals, including two other fish from AquaBounty, and a GMO dubbed “EnviroPig” that has been pending FDA approval since 2007.

A national poll conduct by the consumer organization Food and Water Watch indicates that the GMO salmon meets with 78% disapproval from Americans. “GMO-free” was the fastest growing health claim on food products last year, according to Nielsen.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2010 (online 10/27/2010)