October 28, 2014—Brussels and Washington, DC. Officials in Panama fined U.S. biotech company AquaBounty Technologies a near-maximum US$9,500 after ruling that the company has been operating in violation of environmental regulations during its experiments with genetically modified (GM) salmon. Food & Water Europe, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S. today called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to terminate its ongoing safety review of GM salmon and to reject AquaBounty’s pending application to sell the company’s GM fish in the United States.
“The FDA has always assured the public that it is checking, monitoring and regulating AquaBounty’s production platform to ensure that the company can mitigate the well-documented environmental impacts of escaped GM salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Europe. “We now know that AquaBounty is unwilling or unable to follow basic rules and regulations, and that the FDA is unable or unwilling to enforce them. It’s time to put an end to this dangerous experiment.”
Last week’s decision from the Panamanian National Environmental Authority came in response to a complaint filed last year by the Panamanian environmental organization Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM). Regulators found AquaBounty out of compliance with a raft of environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure prior to beginning operations the legally required permits related to water use and water discharge. Regulators concluded, “We are of the opinion that it [AquaBounty] has repeatedly violated the aforementioned environmental regulations.” The US$9,500 penalty is very near the US$10,000 maximum penalty provided for in Panamanian law.
AquaBounty’s facility in Panama has long experienced serious security issues, including a storm-related accident that led to “lost” salmon in Panama. A visiting journalist described the company’s facility as a “run-down shed.”
To date, the FDA has made no regulatory decision on AquaBounty’s application to sell GM salmon, which, if approved, would be the first biotech animal to enter the food supply anywhere in the world. The FDA’s current regulatory review considers only one production scenario in which AquaBounty produces GM salmon at a remote facility in Panama, then sends fillets to U.S. retailers. Critics have long worried that AquaBounty chose its out-of-the-way production facility as a way to evade regulatory scrutiny.
“In the European Union, we are well aware that GM foods are not labeled in the U.S. One of the big reasons we are fighting the U.S. approval of GM salmon for food is the grave doubts surrounding the ability of either AquaBounty or the U.S. food system to keep these GM fish out of exports headed our way,” said Eve Mitchell, EU food policy advisor for Food & Water Europe. “If AquaBounty doesn’t even have legal permission to do what it is doing, it only adds to worries that the entire regulatory process is too full of holes to be trusted, especially on something as important as a safety assessment. We do not want GM salmon in the EU, and we don’t think anyone else does either, so it’s time for the FDA to reject the application and put this thing behind us.”