An “all-encompassing” federal spending bill was unveiled this week on Capitol Hill, and tucked away in the legislation includes a few small provisions that may have a big impact on the food industry.

Essentially, federal lawmakers included language in the bill requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the sale of genetically engineered salmon until the agency establishes uniform labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” that the fish they are about to purchase and eat has been genetically altered.

The language was added to the legislation just one month after the FDA announced that salmon was the first genetically modified animal (GMA) approved for human consumption. The inclusion of the language is also a small victory for activist groups that oppose the sale and consumption of GMAs. They believe that, at the very least, Americans should know what they are eating.

The fish at the center of attention is the AquAdvantage salmon, produced by AquaBounty. A combination of growth hormone from one salmon and a gene from another fish helps the AquAdvantage grow big enough for consumption in one-half the time it normally takes.

Activists and commercial fishermen worry that the fish may not be safe to consume. They also worry about potential impacts to the environment if the fish ever reach the open water (thereafter mating with natural, wild salmon). The “manufacturer” of the AquAdvantage counters that the fish are all female and sterile and raised in facilities that are landlocked. (Sounds a little like what scientists thought in Jurassic Park!) The company also argues that by using GMAs, it could reduce overfishing of Atlantic salmon.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski points out that, “There’s a question as to whether this fish should even be called a salmon. The FDA made no mandatory labeling requirement. Instead, they said it could be labeled voluntarily. But no manufacturer of a ‘Frankenfish’ is going to label it as such. … At least now people will have the opportunity, the chance, to know what it is that they are purchasing.”
Knowing that the FDA most probably would approve the AquaBounty salmon for human consumption, consumer and environmental activists hit the pavement to try and prevent its sale. Indeed, many large retailers will not stock the “controversial fish.” These chains include Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  

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