Ethical Eating

Frankenfish Rejected From National Retailers: Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and More

Frankenfish has been swimming its way closer to your dinner plate for quite some time now. While you were recovering from your post-holiday hangover or taking advantage of major savings on that flat-screen TV on December 26, the FDA concluded that Frankenfish -- i.e., AquaBounty Technologies' AquaAdvantage Salmon -- would not have any negative environmental consequences in North American waters. If approved, Frankenfish would be the first genetically engineered animal to make its way into our food supply. No biggie.

Well, many national retailers are fighting back by refusing to sell the product if it's approved. Details after the jump.

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Today a major coalition of groups representing health, food safety, consumers, and the fishing industry launched "the Campaign for Genetically Engineered (GE)-Free Seafood" by announcing that several major retailers have pledged to ban GE seafood from stores if it's allowed into the market.

So far, the national retailers include Whole Foods (325 U.S. stores), Trader Joes (367 stores), and Aldi (1,230 stores), all of which have outposts in Florida. Many other regional chains have also agreed to the ban.

To create the Frankenfish, AquaBounty inserted growth hormone genes from a Chinook salmon with an Ocean Pout -- a cold-water, eel-like fish -- with run-of-the-mill Atlantic salmon. Under normal circumstances, Atlantic salmon's growth cycles slow during colder months. By adding these two foreign genes, AquaBounty has been able to expedite the three-year maturation process to one and a half years. 

While many GE-activists are concerned over potential health consequences of the Frankenfish -- the fish was evaluated in the same manner as a drug, a process which hides some data from the public such as allergy issues, etc. -- the main focus of the moment is related to environmental concerns. Activists and multiple members of the Veterinarian Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC), a committee mostly comprised of veterinarians asked to give input on the findings, are concerned about the quality of the report. The assessment looked at the impacts of raising the eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada and the actual fish in Panama. According to Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch, "There's a lot of funny business. The report only looked at the enviromental risks from that scenario. No one thinks that's a commercially viable scenario." 

On December 26, the FDA published its Environmental Assessment and preliminary "Finding of No Significant Impact" on the Federal Register. Initially there was a 60-day period in which members of the public could review the department's findings and submit comments. After a group of senators requested a 60-day extension to the comment period, the final date for comments was pushed back to April 26, 2013 -- just over a month away.

Under current law, there is no requirement to label Genetically Engineered products in the food supply.

Friends of the Earth, along with 30 other activists groups, such as Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, and Consumers Union, are asking other retailers, chefs, and restaurants to join in on the Pledge for GE-Free Seafood. If you're interested in submitting a comment on the FDA's assessment, click here.

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Sara Ventiera