In a number of news reports over the past 24 hours, several major grocery retailers, among them Target, H-E-B, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Aldi have joined the ranks of chains across the country to say that their stores will not sell a genetically-altered type of salmon, even if the Federal Drug Administration approves it as safe for human consumption.
In addition, at least one chef in the Dallas area has announced that he will steer clear of such genetically engineering fish, as well as other genetically modified foods.
The salmon, which has a gene lifted from another fish, is being developed by AquaBounty of Waltham, Mass., and has been under scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1996, when the company first asked for approval.
The AquAdvantage salmon, if approved for sale in the United States, would be bred in Canada’s Prince Edward Island and raised in farms located in Panama, according to the company. The modified Atlantic salmon has been genetically engineered to grow to maturity in approximately 18 months rather than the three years it takes a natural salmon to become full-size.
The company states that it looks like a salmon, tastes like a salmon and is, for all practical purposes, a salmon, even though it contains a growth-promoting gene from the Chinook salmon and another from an eel-like ocean pout that allows year-round growth.
Termed “frankenfish” by detractors, opposition has been based largely on the perceived detrimental effects to natural fish populations should the salmon “escape” and “spread its genes” to other fish, according to a May 30 report in Food Safety News. Other studies have postulated that the genetically-engineered salmon could intermingle, overtake and out-compete other wild varieties of fish should they have the chance.
AquaBounty responds by saying that the studies failed to mention that their fish, however, are all female and sterile; they will also be raised in inland farms, they note, and will not be shipped live from Panama, so the chances for intermingling are virtually non-existent.
The public comment period on the draft environmental statement by the FDA expired more than a month ago, on April 26, and a final decision is expected soon by the agency. Its initial assessment stated that it “did not expect AquAdvantage to impact wild salmon stock if the company properly followed its proposed procedures. The agency has also concluded the salmon would be as safe to eat and nutritionally equivalent to non-GE Atlantic salmon,” noted the news report.
Opposition to the fish and its introduction in the U.S. market has come primarily from the Center for Food Safety and an environmental group, Friends of the Earth, and is supported by more than 30 consumer and environmental groups who have urged food retailers and restaurants to pledge not to knowingly serve genetically-engineered fish.
In light of last weekend’s March Against Monsanto to focus attention on the whole subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the pending FDA announcement regarding the approval of this fish is even more eagerly anticipated.