Since the first genetically engineered salmon was sold in Canada this summer, retailers and environmental groups have stepped up their opposition to the product.
After four years of review, the Canadian government declared GE salmon safe for consumption and allowed it to be sold in 2016. However, resistance has been growing, led by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), an organization calling for more transparency in the use of genetic engineering in food and farming.
Retailers have responded, with Sobeys, which operates 1,500 stores across Canada, recently becoming the latest grocery chain in North America to declare that it will not be selling AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon, after Loblaws and Metro declared they would not sell GE salmon earlier this year. Together, the three retailers represent more than 50 percent of the Canadian food retail industry.
Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Aldi USA and several other U.S. food retailers have also publicly declared that they would not sell GE salmon.
“The statements from our retailers come in the wake of the secret sale of GE salmon into Canada,” Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), told SeafoodSource, referring to the fact that AquaBounty would not disclose where a shipment of GE salmon was sold in Canada in June, and to what type of buyer – processor, distributor, retailer, foodservice, or other.
“Now that the GE salmon is somewhere unknown in our food system, grocery stores find themselves faced with a flood of customer questions and confusions,” Sharratt said. “Without mandatory labeling of GE foods, retailers are compelled to give their consumers this information. Without this information, consumers are shopping blind, and many are choosing not to shop for salmon.”
While Sharratt said that CBAN only has anecdotal information that consumers are choosing not to buy any type of salmon, 45 percent of Canadian consumers said they would “definitely not” eat GE salmon, according to a CBAN poll done in 2015.
AquaBounty CEO responded to Sobeys' decision in a statement to SeafoodSource.
“We are disappointed that groups continue to misrepresent and disparage our product, and attempt to prevent consumers from deciding for themselves what products to purchase,” Stotish said in an email. “AquAdvantage represents a healthy and sustainable source of a desirable food.”
The supplier’s AquAdvantage salmon “has fared extremely well in taste-tests as well as in test kitchens and been readily accepted,” Stotish said. “Feedback from our few customers to date has also been very favorable.”
Mandatory GE food labeling bills have failed in both the Canadian Parliament and the U.S. Congress. However, the United States passed a law allowing for voluntary labeling of GE foods last summer. The U.S. law allows food manufacturers three different ways to disclose the fact that their products contain genetically modified ingredients: words on a package label, a symbol on the label or by scanning an electronic code, such as a QR code, that takes the consumer to the information online.
AquaBounty has yet to sell any of its genetically engineered fish in the U.S., as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the import and sale of GE salmon until Congress passes guidelines regarding the labeling of genetically modified products.