Group of Grocery Retailers Pledges to Reject 'Frankenfish'

A march opposing FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr)

Group of Grocery Retailers Pledges to Reject 'Frankenfish'

Food safety groups launch Campaign for Genetically Engineered-Free Seafood

As the FDA edges closer to approving genetically engineered salmon, dubbed "frankenfish" by some critics, a group of national grocery retailers has pledged to reject it from their stores, heeding strong consumer opposition.

A coalition of groups led by Friends of the Earth made the announcement Wednesday, as part of the launch of their Campaign for Genetically Engineered (GE)-Free Seafood.

Among the 13 retailers that have pledged not to sell the GE salmon or other GE fish are Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Aldi and PCC Natural Markets.

"We applaud these retailers for listening to the vast majority of their customers who want sustainable, natural seafood for their families," said Eric Hoffman, food & technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

"Now it's time for other food retailers, including Walmart, Costco and Safeway, to follow suit and let their customers know they will not be selling unlabeled, poorly studied genetically engineered seafood," stated Hoffman.

U.S. consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to FDA approval of the GE salmon, called AquAdvantage, recent polls show. And the science the FDA is basing its approval on is "fishy," food writer Jill Richardson has noted:

Back in 2010, the FDA took the first steps to approve AquaBounty's application to produce the GE salmon. It released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and several hundred pages of safety testing data from experiments performed by AquaBounty on the GE salmon. Then it gave the public a mere two weeks to comment on the data, and it convened VMAC [Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee] to advise it on the GE salmon.

For watchdog groups, this was the first signal that something was, well, fishy. Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen excoriated the safety data as "sloppy," "misleading," and "woefully inadequate." In addition to using small sample sizes and culling deformed fish and thus skewing the data, AquaBounty only provided data gathered in its Prince Edward Island facility, where it will produce GE salmon eggs. But, by law, it must also provide data from its Panama facility, where it will grow the salmon to full size. [...]

In May of 2012, it produced an ever-so-slightly improved Environmental Assessment (EA) compared to the original draft it made public in 2010, and a preliminary "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI).

The preliminary FONSI and draft EA were not made public until they were published in the Federal Register on December 26, 2012. At that point, the FDA began a 60-day period in which the public could review its findings and submit comments.

What happened between 2010 and 2012 to improve our confidence that the GE salmon is safe for human consumption and for the environment? Nothing.

"Simply put, this genetically engineered fish is unnecessary and is a problem masquerading as a solution," said Heather Whitehead, online campaigns director at Center for Food Safety. "We're excited to see that grocery retailers agree that there is no need to introduce an unnecessary, unpopular and risky new technology to the marketplace without adequate assessment, posing risks to human health, the environment, wild salmon, and the sustainable fishing industry."

The coalition adds that labeling of the GE fish is unlikely, and while now it is the GE salmon that looks to be headed to the food market, there are also about 35 other GE fish in development worldwide.

Public comments on the GE salmon are open until April 26, 2013.

If it gets FDA approval, the coalition says it "would be the first-ever genetically engineered animal allowed to enter the human food supply. "


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