WASHINGTON—Dozens of U.S. retailers including Target have made a seafood commitment. They won't sell genetically-engineered salmon even if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves an application from AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. to commercialize the fish, a coalition led by Friends of the Earth, an activist environmental group, said Wednesday.
In total, 59 retailers representing 4,662 grocery stores have vowed to shun the genetically-modified salmon, according to the Campaign for Genetically Engineered-Free Seafood. Citing a report from Greenpeace, the coalition announced May 29 that four retailers have joined 55 other businesses that previously made similar commitments.
Those four retailers include the H.E.B. chain (315 stores in Texas), Giant Eagle (387 stores in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia), Meijer (200 stores in Michigan, Indiana and other areas of the Rust Belt) and Target, which sells seafood in 1,394 stores, the coalition disclosed in a press release.
Representatives for H.E.B. and Meijer did not respond to requests for comment.
Jessica Deede, a spokeswoman for Target, said the company eliminated farmed salmon in 2010 from its fresh, frozen and smoked seafood offerings in furtherance of "our ongoing commitment to source and sell sustainable seafood".
"This commitment means that Target will not carry genetically engineered salmon," she said in an emailed statement Friday.
Dan Donovan, a spokesman for Giant Eagle, said Thursday the company had neither prior knowledge nor input on the press release.
"Giant Eagle does not currently sell genetically modified salmon, and does not plan to sell it in the foreseeable future," he said in an emailed statement.
"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," said Eric Hoffman, food & technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in a statement.
AquaBounty Technologies Application Still in Limbo
AquaBounty Technologies, based in Waltham, Mass., has been waiting years for approval to sell genetically-engineered salmon. If the company receives the green light from FDA, the fish would become the first genetically-engineered animal approved for human consumption.
Suzanne Turner, a spokesperson for the company, did not respond Thursday to an emailed request for comment on the press release from the Campaign for Genetically Engineered-Free Seafood.
Although FDA has not approved AquaBounty Technologies' application, the agency made a preliminary finding last year that approval wouldn't "have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment in the United States." The agency also concluded the genetically-engineered fish would be as safe as conventional salmon, affirming a previous finding.
Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for FDA, said Thursday she could not give a timeframe on when the agency would make its final decision.
AquaBounty Technologies has proposed producing the eggs on Prince Edward Island before shipping them to Panama where they would be grown to market size and harvested.
The company says the eggs include a gene from the Chinook salmon, enabling the sterile fish to grow to market size in half the time of a conventional salmon. The female salmon would then be sold in the United States.
According to the Center for Food Safety, more than 1.8 million people have informed FDA in comments they oppose approval of the salmon. Some members of Congress also have expressed reservations.
In a letter submitted last month to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, 10 Democrats, one independent (Bernard Sanders of Vermont) and one Republican (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) in the U.S. Senate cited environmental and food-safety concerns.
"Finally, we are concerned with the precedent that this ruling could set, as companies will likely seek FDA approval for other genetically engineered fish such as tilapia and trout, as well as its application for other animals," the senators wrote. "It would mark a shift in national policy of managing seafood for sustainability in favor of engineered species that … is patently unsustainable."
According to AquaBounty Technologies, 82% of the world fish stocks are estimated to be depleted, endangered or overexploited. Its says genetic engineering can help meet burgeoning demand for fish protein.
The company maintains its salmon "has now been exhaustively studied for more than 15 years" and is undergoing "a far tougher and more critical review than any other food product on the market."