Who's Protecting You from Unhealthy Fish?

A coalition of food safety and environmental groups hopes that your local grocery store is.

March 21, 2013

Hey, if it came from Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or a dozen other grocers, you know it's not GMO!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears poised to approve genetically engineered salmon, the first man-made animal sold for human consumption, any day now. The fish has already passed the approval of President Obama's Office of Management and Budget and is undergoing one last public comment period that will end April 26th.


Are You Ready for Frankenfish?

The gene-altered fish will appear, unlabeled, at fish counters, despite surveys showing that 91 percent of Americans don't think it should be approved. Interestingly, though the federal government isn't listening to that 91 percent, grocery stores are.

Earlier this week, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Aldi, Marsh Supermarkets (a regional chain serving Indiana and Ohio), PCC Natural Markets in Washington state, and a handful of other co-op markets in Minnesota, New York, California, and Kansas announced they would not sell the genetically engineered (GE) fish if and when it gets approved. They joined more than 200 chefs and restaurants that have already pledged to keep this man-made animal off diners' plates.

The coalition driving all this change is the Campaign for GE-Free Seafood, a network of environmental and health advocacy nonprofits that are all opposed to the approval of GE salmon. Some of the major supporters are Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch.

The fact that grocery stores are taking such a strong stance against the fish underscores that this is a product that isn’t needed and doesn’t serve a greater public good, says Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. And although she doubts the FDA will change its stance based on the opinions of a few major chains, she hopes that the FDA will take notice. “We don’t think we’re going to solve all these problems in the marketplace,” she says. “Everyone deserves this, not just certain shoppers at certain stores.”

The GE salmon was created by AquaBounty, a biotechnology firm based in Massachusetts that has plans to breed the salmon eggs in Canada, fly them down to Panama where they'll grow into full-size fish, then sell them to the U.S. public. Called AquAdvantage, the fish is a standard Atlantic salmon with genes from a wild Pacific salmon and an ocean pout inserted to help it grow faster.

In order to determine whether the product is safe for human consumption, AquaBounty conducted a two-week trial on just six fish. The FDA used data from those tests to deem the GE fish safe.

The Fishy Risk the FDA Is Taking with Your Health

The Center for Food Safety cried foul on those tests, pointing out that, with only that little bit of data, the tests showed a potential for an increased risk of seafood allergies among the public. The center also recently analyzed the nutritional differences between standard non-GE salmon and AquAdvantage and found that the latter contains higher levels of overall fat but 65 percent less omega-3 fatty acids than wild Alaskan salmon. GE fish also were found to have much lower levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals than farmed salmon.

If you'd like your favorite grocery chain to follow the lead of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and the others, speak up! The Center for Food Safety's "True Food Network" is hosting a petition on its website that will be sent to the nation's top 60 supermarkets chains, the top 30 seafood companies, and the top 10 seafood restaurant chains.

Tags: GMOs