What You Should Know About Genetically Modified Salmon,
The “Fish” That No One Wants

By Melissa Diane Smith, author of Going Against GMOs

(Opinion) – In the week before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically engineered animal—AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon—for sale in the United States. The decision, which enraged most consumers (myself included of course!), signals yet another example of how our government agencies continue to side with biotech companies over the wishes of the American people and make decisions that end up literally shoving risky, untested, unlabeled genetically modified foods down our throats whether we like it or not.

gmosalmonfight750The initial reaction to the FDA’s approval of the “fish” (which is actually regulated as a drug in order to expedite the approval process!) is disheartening and infuriating to anyone who cares about having pure, uncontaminated, health-enhancing food. Yet we as citizens and consumers need to know that the story about genetically modified (GM) salmon isn’t totally written yet.

For one thing, GM salmon won’t instantly be in stores; a tiny amount could reach supermarkets in two years or more. Another thing: the FDA’s decision has started to awaken more of what I call “a sleeping giant”—the vast majority of American consumers who weren’t paying much attention to the serious health and environmental issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our foods until they heard about GM salmon. Plus, fierce opposition—both legal and market-oriented—is mounting against GM salmon that could stop so-called frankenfish from reaching our plates.

Updates will be written as things progress. For now, here’s what you need to know about what’s being done to stop GM salmon from getting onto the market, to economically boycott it so there is no market for it, and to at least get it labeled so we can avoid purchasing and eating it:

– Environmental groups in Canada have sued that country’s government to try to halt the production of genetically modified salmon eggs there. Currently, GM salmon eggs are grown in Prince Edward Island, Canada, then transported to Panama, where they will grow to full size and then be shipped back to U.S. markets. However, the approval by the Canadian government would also allow the production and grow-out of the GM salmon elsewhere in Canada. Sterilization of the genetically modified salmon is not 100% guaranteed and accidental cross-breeding could put wild salmon at risk. So, the groups Living Oceans Society, Ecojustice, and the Ecology Action Centre are challenging the Canadian government’s approval of GM salmon to protect native salmon populations and the environment from an unwanted, untested, novel threat. Learn more about the risks to health, the environment and the fish industry posed by GM salmon here.

– The Center for Food Safety has announced that it will sue the FDA to stop the introduction of GM salmon. The FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public by ignoring millions of Americans and more than 40 members of Congress who have expressed vocal opposition and also dismissing studies and concerns regarding impacts on wild species such as wild salmon and brown trout and their ecosystems.

“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment. The Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS). “The CFS will hold the FDA to their obligations to the American people.”

– Grocery stores are rejecting GMO salmon. A recent New York Times poll found that 75 percent of respondents said they would not eat genetically modified salmon. Grocery store managers know that and are responding to it. More than 60 grocery store chains representing more than 9,000 stores across the U.S.—including Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Target, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and many others—have made firm commitments to not sell the GMO salmon. See a complete list of grocery stores that have said no to GMO seafood and thank them by supporting those stores. You can do your part to add more stores to the list by writing a letter to urge your local grocery stores to not sell GMO seafood.

“Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, Food and Technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.”

– The nation’s largest seafood restaurant is also saying no to GMO salmon. Red Lobster, with 705 North American locations and more than 40 internationally, told the Dallas Morning News that it would not sell GMO salmon.

– Alaskan elected officials are fighting hard to at least get GMO salmon labeled. In a statement, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she is “livid” about the FDA’s decision and calls the salmon a “science experiment” and a threat to “the health of Americans and the sustainability of our fisheries.” She said she “will not stand back and just watch these genetically engineered creatures be placed in our kitchens and on our tables without a fight.” She is pushing for labeling of GMO salmon and has said she’ll go as far as blocking confirmation of the FDA’s next commissioner.

Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young echo Senator Murkowski’s desire to push back against the decision that puts wild fisheries at risk. “At the bare minimum, we must ensure that GE salmon are labeled so consumers know exactly what they are purchasing and feeding to their families,” Young said.

So, you see? The fishy, slippery story of GM salmon isn’t finished yet, not by a long shot.

Copyright 2015 Melissa Diane Smith

To learn more about many different risks from GMOs and how to avoid them in the foods you eat right now, be sure to get a copy of Going Against GMOs, the definitive consumer’s guide on the topic.

UPDATE, December 18, 2015: Less than a week after this post was published, the federal spending bill with a small but important passage was passed in Congress: It instructed the FDA to forbid the sale of genetically modified salmon until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” whether a fish has been genetically altered.

This is very good news for consumers! “At least now people will have the opportunity, the chance, to know what it is that they are purchasing,” said Sen. Murkowski.

For more info, see “FDA must develop plan to label genetically engineered salmon, Congress says.”

UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2016: Following the directive passed by Congress late last year, the FDA issued an import ban on GMO salmon until labeling standards can be established. The ban effectively makes it impossible to stock and sell the salmon in the U.S. in the near term.

For more info, see “New FDA Import Ban Means GMO Salmon Won’t Be Sold in U.S. Anytime Soon.”

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