Advocates Tell Officials That Oversight of Genetically Engineered Animals Must Remain with the FDA

According to a press release published by the Center for Food Safety on Wednesday, 13 public health, environment, and animal welfare advocacy groups sent letters to officials imploring them not to switch regulatory authority over genetically engineered (GE) animals to a department within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The letters seek to undo the eleventh-hour Trump Administration proposal, allegedly one of several aimed to “weaken [the] FDA’s authority to protect public health.”

The letters, sent to Secretary Xavier Becerra of the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) and Secretary Tom Vilsack of the USDA, explain the dangers posed by the deregulation of GE animals, like undetected off-target mutations that threaten animal and human health as well as the environment. Though the agency has yet to “develop final regulations on genetically engineered animals, [the] FDA possesses the scientific and administrative capacities to regulate these animals better than (the) USDA,” Jaydee Hanson, policy director at the Center for Food Safety said in a statement.

The Center for Food Safety explained that on Jan. 13, the former HHS and USDA secretaries signed a memorandum of understanding shifting oversight of GE animals from the FDA to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. An HHS commissioner allegedly pushed back, as did FDA lawyers over concerns about the switch’s legality and the possible public health consequences of easing oversight of such genetically altered products.

The advocacy groups reportedly share the dissenters’ concerns and now ask secretaries Becerra and Vilsack to change course. The 13 groups that signed the letters are the Center for Food Safety, A Greener World, American Anti-Vivisection Society, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Food and Water Watch, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International Center for Technology Assessment, National Family Farm Coalition, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, and World Animal Protection.

Relatedly, last November, a Northern District of California court ordered the FDA to study what would happen if genetically modified, fast-growing salmon escaped from their farm enclosures, Law Street Media previously reported. The court held that under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, the agency had the duty to determine the consequences, however unlikely, of GE salmon in the wild.