The Salmon Runaround

By Maria Cerretani

I stopped buying salmon a few years because I was too overwhelmed by all of the issues surrounding it. Farmed versus wild? Fresh or frozen? Mercury? When is salmon actually in season? What is the best source? With so many factors to consider, I wished I lived in a world in which I could just trust retailers to do the legwork for me.

Well, now it appears that we have a new problem to contend with: genetically engineered (GE) salmon. But this time, some retailers are stepping up to the plate. Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Target, Aldi, and other supermarket chains have pledged to not to carry genetically modified fish, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (You can view the most up to date list of retailers here.) Currently, genetically modified fish cannot be sold in the United States, but there is concern that this is about to change. In April of this year the public comment period on the matter ended and the FDA is expected to make a decision within the next couple of months. According to a number of sources, over 1.5 million people voiced opposition to the approval of genetically engineered salmon. However, the FDA's website currently states that their "preliminary finding is that an approval of this application ... would not have a significant impact (FONSI) on the U.S. environment," which does not sound promising for those who want the application rejected.

AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. is the U.S. based company seeking approval for the commercial production of its AquAdvantage salmon. AquAdvantage salmon grow at twice the rate of natural salmon and the company argues that they are simply trying to help meet the world's growing demand for seafood. Sound familiar? Their argument is not unlike the logic behind the selective breeding that created today's super-sized commercial poultry breeds.

If approved, salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal sold for human consumption. Many fear that it will open the doors to the proliferation of other genetically engineered animals.

Why should you care?

There are a number of concerns related to genetically engineered foods. Many industry watchdogs do not believe that enough research has been conducted to definitively prove the safety of introducing genetically engineered foods into our ecosystems and food supply. As it turns out, the FDA does not conduct independent testing of genetically engineered animals. Instead, the agency tasked with protecting public health bases their decision on data collected by the very company seeking approval! Plus, the FDA is considering the application under the protocol for the approval of new animal drugs, instead of evaluating it as a genetically engineered animal intended for human consumption.

AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. contends that AquaAdvantage salmon would be raised in landlocked tanks so that the fish could not escape into the wild. Additionally, the biotech company has stated that it only intends to market sterile female salmon, to eliminate the possibility of natural reproduction. However, the Ocean Conservancy points out that "re-circulated water is eventually released into the environment, providing an escape route for genetically modified fish or eggs" and that "land-based facilities are also subject to natural disasters, human error, or intentional sabotage." Plus, reports show that 5% of AquaAdvantage salmon are not sterile, which is not an insignificant number.

Should we be concerned if AquaAdvantage salmon enters our oceans? In a word, yes. Genetically engineered salmon would compete with wild salmon for food and the National Academy of Science has published research stating that even a small number of escaped GE salmon could lead to the extinction of wild populations. This would be devastating to our fishing communities and the health of our oceans.

Now, let's say you've sifted through all the current research on genetically engineered foods, and you decide that you do not want to consume them. Guess what? The United States does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Whether it is for environmental or health or other reasons, the majority of Americans do not want to consume genetically engineered animals. And retailers are starting to listen. As of today, 4,662 stores have vowed to keep genetically engineered salmon off their shelves.

While we may often feel helpless against the industrialization of our food system, the commitment of retailers like Whole Foods, Target, and Trader Joes to ban GE salmon shows that change can come from the ground up. If your local grocery store is not on the list of retailers who have signed the pledge, petition them. Contact your representatives in Congress and let them know that you do not support the approval of GE salmon. Support your local fishermen and let them know that sustainable seafood and fishing communities matter to you.

Related News:
6.11.2013 | Landslide Vote for GMO Labeling in Maine Legislature

3.20.2013 | Trader Joe's, Aldi, Whole Foods Opt Out of Genetically Engineered Seafood


Maria Cerretani has been a Slow Food NYC board member since 2013 and was selected as a delegate to Terra Madre in 2012. She works in television production on projects ranging from comedy to educational children's programming.


Blog Category:  News
Tag:  salmon seafood