Genetically modified fish in California would have to be labeled as such according to a bill approved by the California Assembly Health Committee last week.
Currently genetically modified fish is not on sale anywhere in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a two-day hearing to consider the safety of Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies’ AquAdvantage salmon in September last year – the first time that the FDA has considered the safety of genetic engineering in animals intended for human consumption. The hearing yielded no recommendation from the FDA, which said that more research was necessary before a decision could be made.
The bill that passed the California Assembly Health Committee on May 3 was introduced by member Jared Huffman in January to require that all genetically engineered (GE) fish sold in the state would have to be clearly labeled as such.
“Knowing whether our salmon is genetically engineered is important for a host of reasons, including risks to our native salmon species, and allowing consumers to make dietary choices consistent with concerns they may have for the environment, food safety, and religiously or ethically based dietary restrictions,” Assemblyman Huffman said.
The fish under consideration is Atlantic salmon given the growth hormone gene of the faster-growing Pacific salmon, along with DNA from the eel-like ocean pout. AquaBounty claims that the resulting AquAvantage salmon reaches maturity at twice the rate of normal Atlantic salmon, and requires 25 percent less food.
There has been no progress on the company’s application to approve its salmon for commercialization since the FDA hearing in the fall.
At the moment, foods produced through genetic modification are not required to be labeled as such in the United States, and the FDA’s position has been that labeling should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods”.
CEO of AquaBounty Technologies Ronald Stotish said in an emailed statement: "If there is no material difference between a genetically modified food and its traditional counterpart, it would be misbranding to label the product as different. The FDA review of AquAdvantage has determined that it is equivalent in every way to traditional Atlantic Salmon. Because FDA has not yet approved AquAdvantage Salmon, no official decision on labeling has been announced.
"AquaBounty believes the product should be labeled "Atlantic salmon." The bottom line on labeling is that it must be truthful and in not misleading to the consumer. AquaBounty does however support voluntary branding by the farmers who grow our salmon, which could identify the environmentally "friendly" attributes of this product. The California legislation proposal by Huffman is based upon false and misleading statements and is contrary to FDA label policy.”
The Center for Food Safety, a co-sponsor of the bill, applauded the Health Committee’s decision to pass the bill, which will now go to the Appropriations Committee before being taken up by the full Assembly.
West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety Rebecca Spector said: “The FDA has indicated that it will not require these GE fish to be labeled once they are approved. As such, it is incumbent on the California State legislature, starting with the Health Committee, to let the people of California make informed choices about the food they eat by requiring the labeling of GE fish sold in California.”