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EDITORIAL: Shoppers should know if they’re buying genetically modified salmon

The company that’s bringing GMO salmon to market next year won’t have to label it as such until 2022. This is wrong; consumers have a right to know what they’re buying.

This 2010 photo from AquaBounty Technologies shows two salmon of the same age: The much larger genetically modified salmon is shown in the rear, while a non-genetically modified salmon is in the foreground.
This 2010 photo from AquaBounty Technologies shows two salmon of the same age: A genetically modified salmon is shown in the rear, while a non-genetically modified salmon is in the foreground.
AP Photo/AquaBounty Technologies

Are Americans willing to eat genetically engineered salmon?

The answer, judging by the responses of some of our friends and colleagues, is a swift “No.” National public opinion polls echo that: Three-fourths or more of Americans have reported that they wouldn’t eat genetically modified fish — a higher percentage than for any other type of food.

Biotech firm AquaBounty Technologies is betting that we’ll get over our squeamishness when its GMO salmon, now going into production on an aquaculture farm in Indiana, goes to market sometime next year.

The AquAdvantage salmon — an Atlantic salmon with genetic material from Pacific Chinook salmon and a third fish called ocean pout — is engineered to grow twice as fast as regular salmon. It’s the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

AquaBounty, of course, is touting the benefits, claiming the fish is nutritious and safe to eat, will cost less to raise because it grows faster, will help ease overfishing of wild salmon, and has no chance of escaping its Indiana farm pen to invade a river or other natural body of water. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, AquaBounty won’t have to label the salmon as a GMO food until 2022. This is simply preposterous.

Even then, the required labeling will be inadequate for most consumers, according to the Center for Food Safety, a national public interest group that filed a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s 2015 approval.

“We lobbied for GE (genetically engineered), or GMO on the label, because that’s what people are familiar with,” Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center, told us. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules will allow AquaBounty to use the far less familiar acronym “BE,” for bioengineered, or even rely on digital labeling, like a QR code that has to be scanned by a smartphone.

“That’s contrary to their (USDA’s) own study that found people don’t associate QR codes with disclosure” about food ingredients, van Saun said.

Consumer groups fought hard for food labeling to give shoppers detailed information about the ingredients in everything from crackers to ketchup to almond milk.

That’s what this is about: Information to make a choice.

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