By: Michael K. Hansen

The F.D.A.'s decision to allow the sale of genetically modified salmon — the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption — discounted the needs of American consumers. 

When it comes to food, consumers deserve rigorous safety testing for human and environmental risks and meaningful labels they can use to decide what to eat. They got neither.

The AquaBounty salmon was engineered with genes from two other fish species to promote rapid growth. The F.D.A. should have rigorously assessed whether that process introduced any new safety risks, including whether this G.M.-salmon has higher levels of proteins known to cause severe allergic reactions in some people. 

The F.D.A. had 15 years to mull over AquaBounty's application, but did not require that the company follow up on allergenicity tests it did on just 18 fish — despite the fact that the tiny sample study strongly suggested G.M.-salmon could pose a greater allergen risk. The F.D.A. should have conducted the most thorough safety assessment possible, considering this approval of the first genetically engineered animal for food sets a market precedent. 

The F.D.A. also failed to require that AquaBounty salmon be labeled as such, even though poll after poll show that more than 90 percent of consumers favor labeling of all genetically engineered food. 

Given consumer wariness about genetic modification, it is understandable that the industry wants to keep consumers in the dark about which fish are engineered. But the F.D.A. routinely requires labeling of other factors of importance to consumers — including whether foods are frozen, made from concentrate, or are pasteurized or homogenized. 

And consumers are making their voice heard in the marketplace. Some 60 retailers, including major chains like Krogers and Safeway, have decided they will not carry this product.

Congress is also considering what to do about labeling genetically engineered food, following House passage of a measure that would prohibit states from requiring appropriate labels. The Senate should ignore this legislation, and pass a bill that mandates meaningful, plain text labels – not scannable codes – for genetically engineered food, so consumers in every state can make informed decisions, and more important, their own decisions, about what they eat. 

As the National Academy of Sciences put it: “There are reasons — beyond safety or nutrition — for a consumer to want labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants or animals, including religious, ethical, right-to-know or simple preference."

Originally Published: The New York Times