Did the Obama admin sit on an FDA report for political reasons?

Second terms for US presidents tend to wind up being plagued with scandals of one sort or another, and you probably won’t be terribly surprised if the same thing comes to pass for Barack Obama. But what form will the scandal take? Benghazi? Fast and Furious? Something to do with the UN? All of those are still possible of course, but there’s a new story slowly bubbling to the surface right now, and it involves…. genetically modified fish.

The Food and Drug Administration released long-awaited documents Dec. 21 on genetically modified salmon: an assessment of the fish’s potential environmental effects and a preliminary “finding of no significant impact” of the fish on the environment. This brings AquAdvantage salmon — Atlantic salmon that has been modified with a growth hormone gene from chinook salmon so that it reaches maturity faster — a significant step closer to FDA approval.

Astute readers will notice that the recently released documents are dated May 4. So why were they just released Dec. 21 — seven months later?

In a Dec. 21 email, a spokesperson for the FDA explained it this way: “Yes there was a delay. As you are aware, we’ve been working on this for a while, and it was an oversight in our [quality control] process. We are working to address it now.”

You’re to be forgiven if this story – thus far – sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. The genetic modification to the salmon apparently just allows them to grow to maturity much faster than regular fish, so it’s not like they have lasers in their heads or anything. But this particular FDA study – at least according to some sources – was actually concluded nearly two years ago. After those delays, it was allegedly really ready for release back in May. And yet it was released quietly on Friday, Dec. 21st, just as everyone was heading out for Christmas. Something smells fishy there, if you’ll pardon the pun.

At Forbes, Jon Entine has filed an extensive report on the subject which has far less to do with “Frankenfish” than it does with politics.

The seven month delay, sources within the government say, came after discussions late last spring between Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius’ office and officials linked to Valerie Jarrett at the Executive Office, who were debating the political implications of approving the GM salmon. Genetically modified plants and animals are controversial among the president’s political base, which was thought critical to his reelection efforts during a low point in the president’s popularity.

The hurried release of the Environmental Assessment last Friday capped a frenzied two days behind the scenes at the White House and FDA. Within hours after the Slate article and leaked document were posted, an administration official notified the FDA that the administration was dropping its indefinite hold. “The White House had no place to hide,” said a government source. The “final” draft environmental assessment is identical to the document leaked to the GLP, but is dated May 4—two weeks later.

If this entire story proves out, it’s simply riddled with political poison pills. Apparently there are politicians on both sides of the aisle from the Pacific northwest and Alaska who do not want to see these GM salmon approved for general consumption since it will be a blow to the fishing industry. Also, elements of Obama’s voter base are allegedly opposed to GM animals and plants, though the reason for that totally eludes me.

But even more to the point, Obama originally swept into office claiming that the Republicans were the “anti-science party” and he was going to take the politics out science. Entine describes the White House block of the study’s release as, “a direct violation of numerous ethics regulations and possibly of federal laws.” But even if that weren’t the case, it would still be a stunning black eye for the administration which originally claimed it would change “the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.”

Look for this one to wind up in a congressional investigation after the holidays and the swearing in ceremonies are done. Also… I’d like to go on record before the end of the year predicting that at least one Democrat will refer to this as a “fishing expedition” as soon as the inquiry begins.