By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. health regulators are facing a lawsuit from a coalition of environmental organizations seeking to overturn the government's landmark approval of a type of genetically engineered salmon to be farmed for human consumption.
The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and other groups allege in the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to consider all of the environmental risks of the fish, made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies.
Government officials also cleared the product without having the proper authority to regulate genetically engineered animals produced for food, according to the complaint.
The FDA approved the salmon in November after a 20-year review in the first such approval for an animal whose DNA has been scientifically modified. An agency policy analyst said at the time that officials had wanted "to get everything right" and offer many opportunities for public comment because the approval was the first of its kind.
AquaBounty has said its salmon can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon, saving time and resources.
However, the FDA approval process included "an extremely limited environmental assessment" that did not fully evaluate the potential for AquaBounty salmon to escape from the facilities where they are grown, among other risks, according to the lawsuit.
The legal challenge comes as the U.S. food industry is facing increased pressure from consumers to provide more information about the use of genetically engineered ingredients.
General Mills Inc and other major food companies are rolling out new disclosures on products to comply with a Vermont law that will require labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Environmental activists worry the government's approval of AquaBounty salmon will serve as a precedent for other genetically engineered food animals.
Their lawsuit seeks to prohibit the FDA from taking further action on the fish or any other genetically engineered animal for human consumption until Congress grants an agency clear authority over such products.
The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are legal counsel in the case, jointly representing the coalition of organizations.
They sued the FDA and its commissioner, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The case is Institute for Fisheries Resources et al v Sylvia Mathews Burwell et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-cv-01574.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Richard Pullin)