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Hawai'i CFS

California Ban on Genetically Engineered Salmon Expands Protections, but Opens a Dangerous Loophole

October 02, 2014
Center for Food Safety

New Ban Expands 2003 Law Championed by Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety (CFS) cautiously welcomes California law AB 504, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, which bans commercial production of genetically engineered (GE) salmon in all state waters. However, CFS also warns that the bill contains a dangerous loophole that must be closed.

“California has taken an important step to protect its native salmon and trout stocks. Genetically engineered salmon pose a serious risk to our waterways and our native fish populations,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director of CFS. “This bill expands a 2003 law to include all waterways within the state of California. Unfortunately it opens a loophole for research that could lead to dangerous fish escapes.”

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, was drafted in order to protect California’s native salmon and trout populations from the potential threats posed by escaped GE salmon.

“The expanded law unfortunately allows researchers to grow genetically engineered salmon and trout in tanks that could be located right next to waterways containing the wild variety of the species being engineered. Similar breeding tanks have been wiped out by storms allowing fish to escape,” said Jaydee Hanson, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for Food Safety.

As the Fish and Wildlife Service (.PDF) has stated, “history dictates that fish held in aquaculture facilities either land- or water-based, escape.” One study found that if just sixty GE fish escape, it could result in the extinction of 60,000 native fish in less than forty fish generations.

“The research exemption sounds reasonable, but many of the scientists working on GE salmon and trout already have contracts with the companies that want to commercialize GE fish. The provision basically allows for corporations to continue their efforts to commercialize GE fish, undermining the intent of the ban,” added Hanson.

A 2013 study found that GE Atlantic salmon can successfully cross-breed with brown trout, a closely related species, creating hybrid species. The researchers found that the transgenic hybrids not only grew faster than the non-GE wild salmon, wild trout and wild-type hybrids, but in simulated stream conditions, transgenic hybrids were outcompeting both the GE salmon and wild salmon. This dynamic poses serious risks wild populations that are already under duress.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering approval of a genetically engineered salmon, which has been opposed by nearly 2 million Americans. In response to consumer concerns, several major grocery retailers, including Kroger, Whole Foods, Safeway, Target and Trader Joe’s, have committed to not sell GE seafood if it is allowed on the market.

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