Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s ban GMO salmon
by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle
Several U.S. grocery chains have agreed not to sell a genetically engineered salmon that is nearing approval from the Food and Drug Administration after 17 years of development, a group of environmental and consumer groups said Wednesday.
Retailers that have agreed not to sell the fish include national chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, Aldi stores in the eastern half of the country, and PCC Natural Markets in Washington state. Most of the biggest supermarket chains are not participating.
Food activists who lost the battle over California’s Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods and was defeated in November after food companies spent millions of dollars to campaign against it, now are applying pressure via retailers. That is not a tough sell, because such foods poll poorly with the public.
If approved by the FDA, the salmon – known as AquAdvantage and engineered by a Massachusetts firm – would be the first transgenic animal to enter the food supply. The Obama administration gave preliminary approval to the fish, saying it would be as safe to eat as other salmon, and extended the public comment period until April 26.
Jennifer Marples, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, said the company’s decision not to carry the engineered salmon is not a new decision.
"We’ve stated publicly for years that our quality standards prohibit the use or sale of genetically modified or cloned seafood. We believe all farmed animals – whether raised on land or in water, should be from breeding programs designed to promote their welfare rather than developed solely on production or economic outcomes."
Whole Foods also announced that it would label all products containing genetically engineered ingredients by 2018, and the Natural Products Association, a trade group in Washington, D.C., called this week for a national labeling standard.
AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts, which trademarked AquAdvantage Salmon, said it can grow twice as fast as natural salmon but "in all other respects" it is "identical to other Atlantic salmon."
The company calls it "an environmentally sustainable alternative to current farmed salmon" that "will be grown as sterile, all-female populations in land-based facilities with redundant biological and physical containment. As a result, AquAdvantage Salmon cannot escape or reproduce in the wild and pose no threat to wild salmon populations."
The fish is better than regular farmed salmon in that it will "reduce the environmental impact on coastal areas, eliminate the threat of disease transfer from farms to wild fish and grow more fish with less feed," the company said, adding that "AquAdvantage Salmon is the future of salmon aquaculture."
Last year, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski to study the fish, and the Alaska state Senate may soon approve a resolution opposing the fish.
The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group based in Washington with an office in Oakland, launched a campaign this month to pressure the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.