The companies, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, together comprise more than 2,000 retail store locations – a little more than 5 percent of the total number of supermarkets in the U.S. They came together to make the pledge as part of the “Campaign for GE-Free Seafood,” led by a coalition of environmental and consumer groups that includes Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety.
The announcement comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration winds down its final reviews of AquAdvantage salmon, a breed of Atlantic salmon genetically modified to grow twice as fast as its natural counterparts. The FDA has extended the public comment period to April 26 on its draft environmental assessment of the fish, in which it found that the salmon would cause no significant impact.
The FDA previously determined that the fish, engineered by AquaBounty Technologies, would be as safe to eat as conventional salmon. But Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, contends that the fish show increased allergic potential, given data reviewed by the FDA on tests of six fish.
Critics are also concerned that the GE salmon would outcompete wild varieties if its genes ever made it to open waters. AquaBounty contends that the salmon would be grown at inland fish farms, and nearly all the fish would be sterile.
If and when GE salmon reaches stores, it would not likely be labeled to distinguish it from any other salmon. Critics say that the conditions under which GE salmon enter the marketplace will set a precedent for other GE meat down the road.
A 2010 poll commissioned by Food and Water Watch asked consumers if the FDA should approve GE salmon without conducting tests of its own; 78 percent of respondents answered “No.” When respondents were told that the approval of GE salmon could eventually lead to genetically engineered cows, pigs and chickens, the percentage of “No” responses rose to 91.
The companies’ pledge comes just a week after Whole Foods announced that it will require all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) sold in its stores to be labeled as such by 2018. Trader Joe’s already disallows any GE products in its Trader Joe’s-brand items, citing a common desire by customers to avoid such foods.
When Food Safety News called Whole Foods to inquire further about the company’s stance on GE salmon and the policy to begin labeling non-animal GE foods, spokeswoman Beth Krauss said the company has a strict policy against interviews with trade publications.
“This 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,” Krauss said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Food Safety News could not reach officials at AquaBounty for a response to the push-back. The company has contended in the past that its salmon is perfectly safe and healthful.
Other retailers joining the pledge against the salmon include regional chains such as Marsh Supermarkets in Indiana and Ohio, PCC Natural Markets in Washington State, and co-ops in California, New York, Minnesota and Kansas.
The Campaign for GE-Free Seafood next plans to recruit more grocers, including big names such as Walmart, Costco and Safeway, said Friends of the Earth food & technology policy campaigner Eric Hoffman in a press release.
A number of states, including Vermont, Oregon and Hawaii, have GMO labeling bills in varying states of development. In 2012, 53 percent of Californians voted down a proposition that would have required labeling of all GE foods.
Food Safety News is currently conducting a survey that you may have missed if you have a pop-up blocker installed. Please take 5 minutes to tell us a little about yourself and why you read Food Safety News. The information you provide will remain confidential and will help us improve our service. Thank you! – The Food Safety News Team© Food Safety News