Environmental, public health and fishing industry advocacy groups on Wednesday sued federal regulators over the November approval of genetically modified salmon.
The complaint alleged that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration exceeded its authority in approving AquAdvantage Salmon and that the agency failed to consider environmental consequences.
“FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape,” said Brettny Hardy, attorney for Earthjustice. “We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard."
AquaBounty Technologies' modified Atlantic salmon is the first engineered animal approved for human consumption by the FDA. The fish includes a growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon and a gene from another fish that enables it to grow twice as fast as a normal Atlantic salmon.
The FDA announced its approval by indicating that the modified fish does not present "biologically relevant differences ... compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon."
The lawsuit, however, argued that the FDA improperly applied a 1938 law to its evaluation of a genetically modified animal.
Critics also argue that the modified fish is likely to escape, which could jeopardize wild — and endangered — salmon populations.
"There’s never been a farmed salmon that hasn’t eventually escaped into the natural environment," said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. "Why should we believe that long term, these 'frankenfish' won’t be the same?”
AquaBounty previously dismissed concerns about its fish escaping into the wild. Officials said that the salmon would be heavily contained within a system of screens and filters and that the entire population would be female and sterile.
Ron Stotish, the company's chief executive, told Reuters that the FDA was "extraordinarily thorough and transparent" in its review and that he was confident that its decision would stand.
The FDA also found that the modified salmon would not need to be labeled as such because it would not differ physically from normal salmon.
A year-end spending bill passed by Congress, however, directed the agency to establish guidelines for labeling modified fish and prohibited the introduction of the salmon until it does so.