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GM salmon: Target joins 58 other retailers to say no to GM fish

By Stephen DANIELLS , 30-May-2013
Last updated the 30-May-2013 at 16:55 GMT

The potential market for genetically engineered seafood continues to shrink as the total number of retailers committed to not selling GM seafood has risen to 59.

Target and other large mainstream grocery retailers across the US committed to the Campaign for Genetically Engineered (GE)-Free Seafood to not sell genetically engineered salmon if it is approved.

These new store policies were released today by Greenpeace in its Carting Away the Oceans report, which assesses the sustainable seafood policies of US retailers.

The 59 retailers, representing 4,662 grocery stores across the country, include Target, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Whole Foods, Marsh and Hy-Vee.

The Campaign for GE-Free Seafood is led by Friends of the Earth, and the organization’s food & technology policy campaigner Eric Hoffman said: “There’s no room on our plates for genetically engineered seafood. Consumers don’t want it and price-competitive stores across middle America are refusing to sell it

“We applaud Target and all these retailers for listening to the vast majority of their customers who want sustainable seafood for their families.

"We need to see more big retailers take this kind of initiative.”

Target were contacted for comment, but did not respond prior to publication.

Commercialization

As reported by FoodNavigator-USA , AquaBounty Technologies is hoping to become the first company to introduce a genetically engineered (GE) animal to the human food supply. The company recently announced it had secured the necessary funds to “begin the initial commercialization program” should the FDA give its technology the green light.

The firm has been stuck in regulatory limbo for years as the FDA mulls over its technology.

The GE salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the faster-growing Chinook salmon that is effectively ‘turned on’ all year round instead of only during the warmer months, which halves the time the fish takes to reach maturity.

AquAdvantage salmon continues to attract interest from major companies in the aquaculture trade.

FDA: GE salmon would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment

In December, the FDA released an environmental assessment  of AquaBounty’s New Animal Drug Application for AquAdvantage Salmon for public comment. This found that the fish - which would have to be grown in contained facilities approved by the FDA - “would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment”.

If approved, says AquaBounty, the AquAdvantage salmon would compete with farm-raised Atlantic salmon, which was imported from all over the world. Alaskan wild salmon meanwhile, was competing in a different market, and would continue to command a premium price, it predicts.

New science

A new peer-reviewed study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society indicated that the genetically engineered salmon can breed with wild trout and create offspring that grow even faster (Maynard et al., Proc R Soc B , Vol. 280: 20131047).

Ron Stotish, CEO of AquaBounty, said that the company was pleased to see further independent research published using AquAdvantage Salmon.

“The authors used fertile AquAdvantage Salmon and mated them with brown trout in the laboratory to produce hybrids. The hybrids had characteristics expected of conventional inheritance from their parents,” he said. “The authors point out such hybrids would be improbable in nature, but fail to mention such hybrids would also be unable to reproduce.

“Any interpretation of their data should also account for the all-female triploid nature of AquAdvantage Salmon. It should be emphasized that this is a hypothetical study due to the biological and physical containment within which AquAdvantage Salmon will be raised.

“It is important to note that AquAdvantage Salmon are all-female, triploid, and required to be reared in contained land-based aquaculture systems. This fact must also be considered in any risk assessment model, and would appear to further reduce any concerns for potential environmental consequences.”

Dr Stotish added that Brown trout and Atlantic salmon are known to be able to produce hybrid progeny, and previous research had found that such hybrids are sterile. “Such a hybrid would pose little ecological threat as the fish could not reproduce.”

“We continue to be surprised at what we believe to be precautionary and negative interpretation of apparently very encouraging data.”

Approval

Even with a regulatory approval, the number of retailers willing to sell the salmon is shrinking.

“The market rejection of genetically engineered fish comes as the Food and Drug Administration conducts its final review of a genetically engineered salmon,” said Friends of the Earth in a release.

“More than 1.8 million people submitted comments to the FDA opposing the approval of what would be the first-ever genetically engineered animal approved by regulators for the human food supply.”

“Since these fish will likely not be labeled, consumers have to rely on retailers like these to reject unwanted and unnecessary GE fish. We will continue to pressure other retailers to side with consumers,” said Heather Whitehead, online campaigns director at Center for Food Safety.

At least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish are currently under development..

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