Last week, the California Assembly Health Committee passed a bill requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered salmon entering and sold within the state. Interestingly, genetically modified fish is not on sale anywhere in the United States. This move was a preemptive strike against the possible FDA approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon.

In September 2010, the FDA found that there was not enough data to determine if AquaBounty’s GE salmon was safe for consumers or the fish themselves.  AquAdvantage , the fish under consideration, is Atlantic salmon that has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, which allows the salmon to grow twice as fast as a traditional Atlantic salmon. It also contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and reportedly requires 25% less food.

There are a whole host of concerns surrounding GE salmon which are outlined in CA Assembly Bill No. 88. One major concern is that the FDA’s current review of GE salmon does not adequately consider the potential environmental effects and health effects associated with genetically engineered salmon, including, but not limited to, risks to native salmon populations and other freshwater and marine species. The bill expresses that “accurate and truthful labeling to describe whether or not salmon is genetically engineered is the easiest and most protective practice to provide additional transparency in the state’s seafood supply chain so that individuals may protect their health and California’s environment.”

Also included as concerns in the bill:

  • Human health risks, including, but not limited to, potential allergenicity.
  • Religious-, ethical-, and cultural-based dietary concerns.
  • Potential job loss to wild salmon fisherman should consumers stop purchasing salmon altogether in an effort to avoid GE foods.

Unlike the European Union, as of today, genetically modified foods are not required to be labeled as such in the United States. The FDA has indicated that it will not require labeling of GE fish if approved which is in line with their position that labeling should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods”. It seems, however, that the FDA’s position does not seem in line with public opinion. According to the bill,

“Public opinion polls indicate that 95 percent of the public want labeling of genetically modified foods and that nearly 50 percent of the public would not eat seafood that has been genetically engineered.”

Be Food Smart is based in California and we are surprised and encouraged by our state’s progressive position on this important subject. While the bill will not prevent GE salmon from being approved or possibly entering our wild fish populations, at least Californians will be able to make an educated purchase at our grocery stores and fish markets. The next step for the bill is the Appropriations Committee before being taken up by the full Assembly. Let’s hope it is approved and adopted in other states across our country. It we can’t have protection at a federal level, we need to look to our state government for solutions. We thank Assembly Member Jared Huffman for introducing the bill and the Center for Food Safety for co-sponsoring.

CA Assembly Bill No. 88
Center for Food Safety
Food Navigator
Image: E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS