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Last week I told you about a move by Whole Foods to label all products within their stores that contain genetically engineered ingredients. On Wednesday, a group of grocers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (both chains have multiple locations here in San Diego), took the fight over GMOs a step further, announcing they would not carry genetically modified seafood. While they broadly used the term “seafood,” they’re specifically talking about controversial AquaBounty AquaAdvantage salmon.
Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies tweaked an Atlantic salmon genetically by inserting genes from a Pacific Chinook salmon and an ocean pout that would enable the fish to grow more rapidly than traditionally farm-raised salmon. In 1995, the company applied for FDA approval, and needed to bring the fish to market. The genetically engineered salmon has been in limbo ever since, despite a brief period in 2010, when it suddenly appeared to be on the fast-track to approval. That too stalled out, and the company has frequently teetered on the edge of bankruptcy since then.
Near Christmas, the FDA released its draft environmental assessment report, which concluded the GMO salmon is as safe to eat as farm-raised salmon, and that it will have “no significant impact” on the environment. It then opened the report up for comments, which will be accepted until April 26.
There’s a lot of angst around this particular fish.
If approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal intended for human consumption. (It is not the only one in the works, however. Canada may have thrown in the towel on its GMO pig, but according to the Center for Food Safety, there are at least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish being developed around the world, including trout, catfish, tilapia, striped bass and flounder.)
Environmentalists worry about escapement issues, despite the company’s not-very-convincing pledge that the fish will be sterile. Many insist that not enough testing has been done on the fish to ensure it’s safe for human consumption, or if it will trigger allergies.
It also begs the question: Do we even need this? There’s already a traditionally bred farm-raised salmon that achieved those faster growing results without the genetic modification.
Those who are adamant about avoiding GMO ingredients can surmise — even without labeling — that a box of cereal made with corn or soybean ingredients very likely came from a field of genetically engineered crops. But a glistening filet of salmon laid out on a bed of ice (under current laws) would carry no such label.
So, the grocers banded together — 2,000 stores in all — and for the first time, pledged something beyond simply labeling a genetically modified food: They refused to carry it at all. That makes for a notable milestone in the current food war.