GMO seafood facing new challenges

Published on
August 21, 2018

Complications surrounding the U.S. labeling requirements for genetically modified ingredients in food are complicating genetically engineered salmon producer AquaBounty Technologies’ route into the U.S. market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture published its proposed rules for the labeling of genetically modified food in May 2018. However, despite a deadline of 29 July, 2018, it still has not released its National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which would define what foods need to be labeled as genetically modified or bioengineered.

On 1 August, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety filed a federal lawsuit against the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, accusing it of intentionally delaying and impeding the USDA from its task drafting and issuing the new labeling rules.

"Americans have waited for decades for GE foods to be labeled, which Congress knew when it ordered USDA to get this done in a reasonable timeframe," CFS Legal Director George Kimbrell said in a press release. “Trump, [Secretary of Agriculture Sonny] Perdue, and their corporate lobbyists may want indefinite delay and keeping Americans in the dark, but the law doesn't permit it.”

CFS, Friends of the Earth, and other consumer groups have pushed the U.S. government to issue mandatory labeling on GMO foods for years, Dana Perls, senior food and technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth U.S., told SeafoodSource.

“Consumers are demanding that GMOs be labeled, and they demand to know what’s in their food,” Perls said.

The labeling delays are one of the challenges faced by AquaBounty. While the Maynard, Massachusetts-based company has received FDA approval to raise its AquAdvantage salmon at its land-based facility in Indiana, AquaBounty is currently prevented from importing its AquAdvantage salmon eggs from Canada due to the existence of an “Import Alert” that is pending the FDA’s issuance of final labeling guidance. 

AquaBounty’s net loss rose to USD 5.2 million (EUR 4.5 million) in the first half of 2018, according to the company’s second-quarter financial report. However, the company attributed the loss increase to pre-production costs at its farm near Albany, Indiana, as well as research and development activities at its hatchery in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

In the absence of final labeling regulations, U.S. food manufacturers are relying on third-party, non-GMO labels such as the Non-GMO Verified seal from The Non-GMO Project. This has led to a proliferation of labels in the marketplace, and to additional lawsuits.

Nestle USA, which created its own non-GMO label, was recently the target of a class action lawsuit in California over its seal. Lead plaintiff Jennifer Latiff alleges that even though the company uses a non-GMO label on more than 40,000 products – including Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine frozen meals – the products actually contain some genetically engineered ingredients.

In addition, Nestle non-GMO label appears very similar to The Non-GMO Project’s butterfly logo, according to the complaint.

"As a result of this deceptive label, consumers paid a significant premium to purchase a non-GMO product to avoid the well-known health and environmental risks associated with GMO products,” Latiff said in the complaint, CBS News reported.

Nestle called the claims “baseless.” Its "No GMO Ingredients" claim is verified by SGS, “a world leader in third-party inspection, verification, testing and certification,” Nestle told CBS.

In comparison to the United States, Europe has been more proactive in its efforts to label GMO food. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that all new types of genetic engineering techniques and applications to seeds and food need to be regulated as GMOs.

The decision, in response to a case filed by Friends of the Earth France, “affirms that new genetic engineering techniques like gene editing should be classified under the European Union legal definition of GMOs,” Friends of the Earth U.S. said in a press release. “It also affirms that new genetic engineering techniques must be subject to the same E.U. safety laws that cover most existing GMOs, to check for their impacts on human health and the environment which include safety assessments, traceability and GMO labeling.”

Perls told SeafoodSource her organization is looking for a similar outcome in the United States.

“The E.U. made a positive landmark decision, now we need the U.S. system to follow suit,” Perls told SeafoodSource. “[The] E.U.’s decision dispels industry’s claim that new genetic engineering doesn’t need regulation.”

Photo courtesy of the Non-GMO Project

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