Inst. for Fisheries Res. v. Hahn, Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Writing for the CourtVINCE CHHABRIA, United States District Judge
Citation424 F.Supp.3d 740
Parties INSTITUTE FOR FISHERIES RESOURCES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Stephen HAHN, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 16-cv-01574-VC
Decision Date19 December 2019

424 F.Supp.3d 740

INSTITUTE FOR FISHERIES RESOURCES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Stephen HAHN, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC

United States District Court, N.D. California.

Signed December 19, 2019


424 F.Supp.3d 743

Stephen Mashuda, Earthjustice, Seattle, WA, Amy L. van Saun, George Andreas Kimbrell, Pro Hac Vice, Center For Food Safety, Portland, OR, Brettny Elaine Hardy, Earthjustice, Adam Keats, Center for Food Safety, San Francisco, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Mary Margaret Englehart, Frederick Harter Turner, Kevin William McArdle, United States Department of Justice, Marissa Ann Piropato, Natural Resources Section, Washington, DC, for Defendants United States Food and Drug Administration, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Stephen Hahn.

Mary Margaret Englehart, Kevin William McArdle, United States Department of Justice, Marissa Ann Piropato, Natural Resources Section, Washington, DC, for Defendant Alex M. Azar.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS; DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Re: Dkt. Nos. 145, 198

VINCE CHHABRIA, United States District Judge

The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that its authority to regulate drugs includes the authority to regulate the material used to modify an animal's genetic makeup. Pursuant to that asserted authority, the FDA approved a company's application to create, through genetic manipulation, a type of salmon that grows to mature size more quickly than normal. As

424 F.Supp.3d 744

a condition of approval, the FDA imposed restrictions on how and where the salmon are grown, to reduce the risk that the engineered salmon will mix with normal salmon.

The FDA's approval of the salmon has drawn a lawsuit by a coalition of environmental and industry groups. The lawsuit is both a broadside attack on the FDA's authority to regulate the genetic engineering of animals and a targeted attack on the particular process by which the agency approved the salmon. Presently, the Court has been asked to address the broadside attack. For the most part, the parties have left for a later date the adjudication of specific claims relating to the salmon approval.

The plaintiffs' broadside attack has a head-scratching element to it. Although they insist the FDA lacks the authority to regulate the genetic engineering of animals, the plaintiffs have not explained how this conduct can otherwise be regulated under current law. It thus appears that their argument, if successful, would create a regulatory void in which companies would be free to genetically engineer animals without meaningful regulatory oversight (at least unless Congress were able to agree on legislation restricting genetic engineering of animals). But even without considering these consequences, the FDA's assertion of authority is valid. Under the plain language of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA has the authority to require companies to seek its approval before creating and breeding genetically engineered animals. Perhaps the genetic material used to modify an animal does not seem like a "drug" in the colloquial sense, but it is the statutory definition that matters. The statutory definition of "drug" is far broader than the ordinary meaning of that word, and the modification of an animal's genetic makeup falls squarely within the statutory definition.

Because the FDA possesses the authority to regulate this conduct, and for the additional reasons set forth in this ruling, the government largely prevails in this round of the litigation. A hearing will take place in May 2020 on the second round, which involves the question whether the agency's approval of the genetically engineered salmon was faulty, even if its general assertion of jurisdiction over genetic engineering is lawful.

I

To genetically engineer an animal, a scientist first derives a sequence of recombinant DNA, known in this field as an rDNA construct. This construct can encode and represent a specific trait. Next, the rDNA construct is integrated into the genome of an animal. In essence, the presence of the construct will cause the animal to express the sought-after trait. And the rDNA construct can be heritable, meaning that the animal will pass the trait to its progeny. Take the following real-world example: If a scientist wants to engineer a fish that glows under certain kinds of light, they would first derive an rDNA construct that represents the trait of glowing under those kinds of light, and then they would integrate the construct into the genome of a fish. Now the scientist has a glowing fish, as well as the ability to breed a whole line of glowing fish.

The FDA regulates certain rDNA constructs on the theory that they are "drugs" under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The FDA first signed off on the use of an rDNA construct to genetically engineer an animal in 2009. That construct, when integrated into a goat's genome, causes the goat to produce an anticoagulant in its milk, which in turn is used to produce a medication that prevents certain people from getting blood clots. 21 C.F.R. § 528.1070. The FDA next approved an

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application for an rDNA construct intended to produce chickens whose egg whites contain a protein that treats a rare enzyme disorder. § 528.2010. And just this year, the FDA greenlit an rDNA construct that causes rabbits to produce milk capable of treating hemophilia. § 528.1080. The FDA has also declined, in an exercise of its enforcement discretion, to regulate the genetic engineering of some animals, including the glow fish mentioned above. See International Center for Technology Assessment v. Thompson , 421 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2006).

AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. employed a similar technique to create salmon with an abnormally high growth rate. To create its rDNA construct, AquaBounty derived genetic material from a Pacific Chinook salmon and from an ocean pout (which is another type of fish). AquaBounty integrated that rDNA construct into the genome of an Atlantic salmon to produce a line of fish that apparently grow to full size in roughly half the standard time. The commercial moniker for AquaBounty's genetically engineered fish is the AquAdvantage salmon.

In November 2015, the FDA granted AquaBounty's application for approval of this rDNA construct as a new animal drug. In technical terms, the FDA approved the use of "[a] single copy of the a-form of the opAFP-GHc2 recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (rDNA) construct at the a-locus in the EO-1 a lineage of triploid, hemizygous, all-female Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)." 21 C.F.R. § 528.1092(a). The regulation memorializing the FDA's approval limits the production of these fish to "physically-contained, freshwater culture facilities specified in an FDA-approved application." § 528.1092(d).

From a regulatory standpoint, the AquAdvantage salmon present somewhat different issues from the goats, chickens, and rabbits mentioned above. Those other animals are engineered to produce something that becomes an ingredient in a drug to be taken by human beings. The FDA's drug authority is exercised at the front end (when the rDNA construct is used on the animal) and the back end (when the animal's byproduct is turned into a drug for people). The salmon, on the other hand, merely become food to be consumed by people. AquaBounty's application represents the FDA's first approval of the use of an rDNA construct to develop genetically engineered animals destined for the kitchen table.

In its initial approval, the FDA mandated a production process whereby AquaBounty produced eggs in Canada on Prince Edward Island and grew the eggs into mature fish inside freshwater tanks in Panama. Application AR 23116. The FDA also imposed various conditions of use (including agency inspections) to ensure that the AquAdvantage salmon are sterile and cannot escape into the wild. Application AR 23117–19. At present, with the FDA's permission, AquaBounty is raising the salmon in landlocked, freshwater tanks in Indiana. See Statement of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Continued Efforts to Advance Safe Biotechnology Innovations, and the Deactivation of an Import Alert on Genetically Engineered Salmon (Apr. 8, 2019), https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-fda-commissioner-scott-gottlieb-md-continued-efforts-advance-safe-biotechnology. The Department of Agriculture recently finalized labeling standards for the AquAdvantage salmon that carry an implementation date of January 1, 2020. National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, 83 Fed. Reg. 65,814 (Dec. 21, 2018) ; see 7 C.F.R. §§ 66.6, 66.13. The first harvest of AquAdvantage salmon is planned for late 2020, so filets of these genetically engineered salmon could be sold for consumption in the United States not long after.

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A coalition of environmental and industry groups, believing the FDA's approval of AquAdvantage salmon to be unlawful, brought this lawsuit against the FDA and its Commissioner, as well as the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Fish and Wildlife Service.1 At a ten-thousand-foot level, the plaintiffs contend that: (i)...

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4 practice notes
  • Rustico v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., Case No. 18-CV-02213-LHK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • December 19, 2019
    ...Dr. Zhou's concerns, which would have certainly provided Plaintiffs with a suspected factual basis for their claims against Defendant.424 F.Supp.3d 740 Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs were on inquiry notice of the instant claims as of January 12, 2012, the date of Jean Rust......
  • California v. Azar, Case No. 19-cv-02552-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 17, 2020
    ...Tobacco Corp. , 529 U.S. 120, 143, 120 S.Ct. 1291, 146 L.Ed.2d 121 (2000) ; see also Institute for Fisheries Resources v. Hahn , 424 F. Supp. 3d 740, 753 (N.D. Cal. 2019). The change in language from the original version of the anti-reassignment provision is thus particularly harmful to CMS......
  • Institute for Fisheries Resources v. United States Food and Drug Administration, Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 5, 2020
    ...attack on the FDA's authority were thus resolved in favor of the defendants as a matter of law. Institute for Fisheries v. Hahn , 424 F.Supp.3d 740 (N.D. Cal. 2019).What remain are the claims by which the plaintiffs challenge the FDA's particular decision to approve the AquAdvantage salmon.......
  • Inst. for Fisheries Res. v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 5, 2020
    ...attack on the FDA's authority were thus resolved in favor of the defendants as a matter of law. Institute for Fisheries v. Hahn, 424 F.Supp.3d 740 (N.D. Cal. 2019). What remain are the claims by which the plaintiffs challenge the FDA's particular decision to approve the AquAdvantage salmon.......
4 cases
  • Rustico v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., Case No. 18-CV-02213-LHK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • December 19, 2019
    ...Dr. Zhou's concerns, which would have certainly provided Plaintiffs with a suspected factual basis for their claims against Defendant.424 F.Supp.3d 740 Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs were on inquiry notice of the instant claims as of January 12, 2012, the date of Jean Rust......
  • California v. Azar, Case No. 19-cv-02552-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 17, 2020
    ...Tobacco Corp. , 529 U.S. 120, 143, 120 S.Ct. 1291, 146 L.Ed.2d 121 (2000) ; see also Institute for Fisheries Resources v. Hahn , 424 F. Supp. 3d 740, 753 (N.D. Cal. 2019). The change in language from the original version of the anti-reassignment provision is thus particularly harmful to CMS......
  • Institute for Fisheries Resources v. United States Food and Drug Administration, Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 5, 2020
    ...attack on the FDA's authority were thus resolved in favor of the defendants as a matter of law. Institute for Fisheries v. Hahn , 424 F.Supp.3d 740 (N.D. Cal. 2019).What remain are the claims by which the plaintiffs challenge the FDA's particular decision to approve the AquAdvantage salmon.......
  • Inst. for Fisheries Res. v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., Case No. 16-cv-01574-VC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 5, 2020
    ...attack on the FDA's authority were thus resolved in favor of the defendants as a matter of law. Institute for Fisheries v. Hahn, 424 F.Supp.3d 740 (N.D. Cal. 2019). What remain are the claims by which the plaintiffs challenge the FDA's particular decision to approve the AquAdvantage salmon.......

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