Whole Foods, Trader Joe's Among Retailers Saying No to Genetically Engineered Seafood

A genetically engineered salmon (back) and its natural counterpart of the same age. | Image credit: Watchdog on Science

A coalition of 30 consumer, health, food safety and fishing groups today launched the Campaign for Genetically Engineered (GE)-Free Seafood by announcing that several major grocery retailers representing more than 2,000 stores across the US have already committed to not sell GE seafood if it is allowed onto the market.  

The growing market rejection of GE fish comes as the FDA conducts its final review of a genetically engineered salmon. If approved, the salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal allowed to enter the human food supply. 

To avoid consumer confusion and ensure a sustainable seafood supply, a coalition led by Friends of the Earth — including the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union and Healthy Child Healthy World — are asking grocery stores, restaurants, chefs and seafood companies to join the Pledge for GE-Free Seafood and publicly commit to not knowingly purchase or sell genetically engineered salmon or other GE seafood.

Stores that have committed to not carry the salmon or any other genetically engineered seafood include national retailers Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Whole Foods; regional chains such as Marsh Supermarkets in Indiana and Ohio, and PCC Natural Markets in Washington State; and co-ops in Minnesota, New York, California and Kansas.  

“We applaud these retailers for listening to the vast majority of their customers who want sustainable, natural seafood for their families. Now it’s time for other food retailers, including Walmart, Costco and Safeway, to follow suit and let their customers know they will not be selling unlabeled, poorly studied genetically engineered seafood,” said Eric Hoffman, food & technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

"Consumers Union has serious concerns about the safety of the first genetically engineered fish, a salmon engineered to grow to maturity twice as fast as wild salmon. FDA decided based on data from just six fish that there was no increased risk to people with fish allergies. However, even these meager data suggest that these fish show increased allergic potential," says Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

Consumer opposition to genetically engineered animals is strong: The majority of Americans say they won’t eat genetically engineered seafood; 91 percent of Americans say the FDA should not allow it onto the market, according to a Lake Research poll; and 80 percent of Americans who enjoy fish say that sustainable practices are "important" or "very important" to them, according to a 2013 NPR poll.

“We won't sell genetically engineered fish because we don’t believe it is sustainable or healthy. It is troubling that the FDA is recommending approval of AquaBounty’s salmon as a ‘new animal drug,’ subjecting these engineered creatures to less rigorous safety standards than food additives. That’s not a credible safety assessment,” said Trudy Bialic, Director of Public Affairs for PCC Natural Markets. 

“Simply put, this genetically engineered fish is unnecessary and is a problem masquerading as a solution,” said Heather Whitehead, online campaigns director at Center for Food Safety. “We’re excited to see that grocery retailers agree that there is no need to introduce an unnecessary, unpopular and risky new technology to the marketplace without adequate assessment, posing risks to human health, the environment, wild salmon and the sustainable fishing industry.”

The FDA has stated it will likely not label genetically engineered salmon, providing consumers no way of knowing if the fish they are feeding their families is genetically engineered. At least 35 other species of GE fish are currently under development, and the FDA’s decision on the GE salmon will set a precedent for the potential for other genetically engineered fish and livestock to enter the global food market.

In 2011, Target announced a commitment to sell only sustainable and traceable seafood by 2015. And as part of a 2010 commitment made by Mars Petcare to use only sustainably sourced fish by 2020, sub-brand Sheba announced this month that all of its US recipes will include only responsibly sourced fish by the end of 2013. 


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor of Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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