Whole Foods, Trader Joe's And Other Markets Expected Not To Sell AquaBounty Genetically Modified Salmon

on March 20 2013 11:37 AM
  • Whole Foods 2013
    Whole Foods grocery store worker Tim Owen trims the tops of organic carrots in the produce section of the store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Reuters
  • Whole Foods Market
    Some of the nation’s largest grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Aldi, are expected to announce on Wednesday that they will not sell genetically modified salmon. Reuters
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Some of the nation’s largest grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFM) and Aldi, are expected to announce on Wednesday that they will not sell genetically modified salmon.

The announcement comes amid growing controversy stemming from the Food and Drug Administration’s expected approval of salmon engineered by a biotech firm. If approved, the food will be the first such animal cleared by the FDA for widespread human consumption.

While the genetically modified salmon is still awaiting approval from the FDA, the agency concluded in December that the fish would have “no significant impact” on the environment and would be as safe to eat as conventional salmon.

The fish in question, AquAdvantage salmon, is a farmed Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from the chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout that keeps the transplanted gene continuously active. The salmon can grow to market weight in as little as half the time required by other farmed Atlantic salmon, according to AquaBounty.

Although existing FDA policies do not require the food salmon to be labeled as genetically engineered, Whole Foods Market, which is known to emphasize "natural and organic products," recently committed to full genetically modified organism transparency.

“We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer’s right to know,” Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said in a statement. “The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products. Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future.”

Enforced policies like that of Whole Foods’ recent mandate suggest that the salmon could have trouble winning acceptance in the market, now that consumers will actually be able to identify it.

AquaBounty, which is based in Maynard, Mass., says its fish are sterilized and would be grown in inland tanks, with little chance of escape.

The seemingly negative headlines mean more bad news for the biotech company as just last week it issued $6 million worth of new shares in an effort to keep the company afloat for at least another year. Recent reports indicate that it has been depending on the FDA’s approval of the genetically modified salmon in order to stay in business.

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