(Beyond Pesticides, March 22, 2013) Whole Foods Market Inc, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and other food retailers representing more than 2,000 U.S. stores have committed not to sell genetically engineered (GE) salmon. This announcement from the Campaign for Genetically Engineered-Free Seafood appears to be strategic, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nears its decision on the introduction of GE Atlantic salmon from AquaBoutny Technologies into the marketplace. The announcement is being hailed as a victory for environmental and consumer protection groups who are now engaged in GE labeling fights across the country. The announcement also helps underscores the belief that consumers and food retailers are growing increasingly skeptical of the safety and necessity of GE food products.
The food retailers that have signed against the sale of GE salmon range from large food distributors, such as Trader Joe’s, to smaller businesses like Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative. The commitment also came from stores that ranged from the more upscale Whole Foods to the discount grocer Aldi. Proponents of the campaign argue that genetically modified products are not sufficiently tested for safety, carry allergy risk, and also should be labeled. AquaBounty argues that these GE fish are sterilized and would be grown in inland tanks, with little chance of escape. However, escape of farmed Atlantic salmon in other operations has been well documented. Escaped farm salmon can displace wild stocks and create environmental disruptions by introducing sea lice and Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA). Beyond having to compete with escaped farmed salmon, wild stock salmon face increasingly compromised streams and rivers. Aware of these risks to the supply of wild salmon, grocers are choosing to withhold their support for GE fish.
“Our current definition of sustainable seafood specifies the exclusion of genetically modified [GE] organisms,” said a spokeswoman for Aldi.
This commitment by some food retailers is seen as a victory by environmental and consumer safety organizations as they gear up for a growing number of federal and state campaigns to label GE food. Recently, Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) announced that he intends to co-sponsor a bill in Congress along with Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to mandate the labeling of food containing GE ingredients in the U.S. Activists have also been working on the state level to label GE products. The Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee held a public hearing on state House Bill 0903, which would set requirements for labeling and disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in food. Other state labeling efforts have been launched in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Missouri and Washington.
As consumers grow less willing to accept untested food products, there is mounting evidence that GE crops have a negative environmental impact. The proliferation of GE corn, soy, canola, and many other crops has led to a growing number of herbicide resistant weeds, or “super weeds.” Recently, an emergency exemption was granted for the use of floridone in Arkansas and South Carolina to control Palmer amaranth, a glyphosate resistant weed typically found in glyphosate-tolerant (or RoundUp Ready) GE crops where the herbicide is used. In August 2011, a series of studies found that at least 21 different species of weeds are resistant to glyphosate.
The production of GE crops has also dramatically affected pollinators. A recent survey found that found that the amount of Mexican forestland occupied by Monarch butterflies has dwindled to 2.94 acres. This is a 59 percent decline from the 7.14 acres of butterflies measured in December 2011. To explain this drastic decline, researchers point to the loss of Monarch habitat in the U.S. and Mexico as a result of increasing farmland used to grow GE crops. The use of multiple herbicides on these crops has almost eliminated milkweed which is the butterfly’s food source.
For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
For a discussion on federal and local GE labeling efforts and what we can do to protect food security and biodiversity, including strategies to move forward, join us for our 31st National Pesticide Forum in New Mexico April 5-6. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety will be joined by local organic farmers and organizers, including: Eleanor Bravo of Food and Water Watch—NM, who helped with New Mexico’s labeling bill, and Isaura Andaluz, executive director of Cuatro Puertas and the only member of AC21 to dissent in the report on strengthening coexistence among agricultural production methods because of the undue burden it places on organic farmers. For more information and to register, go to www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.
Source: New York Times
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.