Highlighting growing concern about the impacts of genetically engineered fish, more than 200 grocers, restaurants, and seafood distributors, representing 40 states (including the District of Columbia), publicly announced that they pledge not to purchase or sell genetically engineered fish. Signed pledges were gathered by the campaign, Protect Our Waters from Genetically Engineered Fish, an alliance of three groups: the Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action and Friends of the Earth. The grocers, restaurants, and seafood distributors also joined more than 40,000 consumers and environmentalists, along with fishing companies and fishermen, demanding a moratorium on the domestic marketing and importation of genetically engineered fish- including a ban on their use or release into open net pens and ponds.
“Scientists and corporations are playing with genetics without knowing the consequences. As a restaurant owner and chef, I chose to act responsibly by refusing to serve any genetically engineered fish,” said Eric Ripert, executive chef of New York City’s internationally acclaimed and award-winning seafood restaurant, Le Bernadin.
“If my patrons don’t want genetically engineered fish, then I certainly don’t want to serve it. My customers congratulate me for signing the pledge,” said Todd Gray, award-winning chef/owner of Equinox restaurant in Washington, DC.
The concern about the market approval of genetically engineered fish arose after an application was filed with the FDA for market approval of an experimental salmon developed by Aqua Bounty Farms. In response, the Center for Food Safety, with the support of Friends of the Earth, and over 70 other organizations, filed a legal action with the federal government in May 2001 seeking a moratorium on the approval of genetically engineered fish until the ecological and human health consequences are fully examined. The FDA could approve the application at any time putting the first engineered fish on dinner plates, grocery shelves and in restaurants across the country.
Linda Setchell of Clean Water Action expressed the following concern, “FDA’s review process is done behind closed doors with no opportunity for public comment.”
According to Tracie Letterman, Fish Program Director for the Center for Food Safety, “The FDA should halt approval of genetically engineered fish due to the serious food safety risks, such as allergenicity, and the potentially devastating environmental impacts.”
Scientists from Purdue University found that if just 60 genetically engineered salmon escaped from their breeding pens and joined a population of wild salmon, the wild population could become extinct in 40 generations. This is deeply disturbing following the recent reports of 115,000 farm raised Atlantic salmon escaping in Washington State waters in 1999 and 300,000 farm raised Atlantic salmon escaping in Maine waters in 2000. A new study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has also recognized the immediate and serious human health, environmental and ethical concerns associated with the use of genetically engineered animals, including fish, in the food supply.
“The pledge campaign shows that the food industry is increasingly concerned about serving genetically engineered fish to customers,” Letterman said.
Of particular ecological concern are dozens of salmon populations on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts already listed under the Endangered Species Act that could be further undermined by the release of genetically engineered salmon. The release of fast-growing genetically engineered salmon would likely impose yet another significant burden on this wild fish species struggling to survive.
“I am concerned about the impact genetically engineered fish could have on wild fish populations. My restaurant depends on the ability to provide customers with the best quality product,” said Jack Amon, owner of Alaska’s Marx Bro’s Café, and Member of the Board of Directors of the National Restaurant Association and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He continued, “Alaska’s wild salmon stocks represent a tremendous and irreplaceable natural resource. The fisheries here are well managed and sustainable. Asa long time Alaskan, I am proud of thesalmon produced here. Genetically engineered fish escaping from open net pens could be a major ecological disaster.”
The potential environmental impacts of escaped genetically engineered fish from existing fisheries led the State of Maryland to pass a moratorium on the release of genetically engineered aquatic species into waters flowing into the Chesapeake Bay in April 2001. The state of Oregon has a rule that considers releases of genetically engineered fish to pose a risk to wild fish populations.
“Legislative initiatives to protect consumers and ecosystems from genetically engineered fish are yet one more signal to the FDA not to approve such a risky technology,” said Lisa Ramirez, campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.
Visit www.gefish.org to see the list of businesses that support the Center for Food Safety’s campaign on genetically engineered fish, the pledge they signed, and additional information.