Genetically Modified fish labeling Bill fails in California

Genetically Modified Farmed Salmon (also called GE).  By inserting genes that regulate growth hormones, scientists have created “Frankensalmon,” that grow up to three times faster.  Critics say the technology can lead to bloated, misshapen, cancer causing fish that threaten wild populations if they escape.  

by Dan Bacher

A bill that would have required that all genetically engineered (GE) fish sold in California contain clear and prominent labeling failed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 9-7 on January 19.

The legislation, AB 88, was stalled in Appropriations last year, and was held-over for reintroduction this session by the bill’s author, Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-6). This bill is modeled after similar legislation passed in the state of Alaska in 2005 that requires labeling of all genetically modified seafood.

“It’s shameful that nine members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee chose to keep consumers in the dark as to whether salmon sold in California is genetically engineered or not, should GE Salmon be approved by the FDA,” said Marie Logan of Food and Water Watch. “We will continue to fight for labeling of all genetically engineered foods and continue to urge the FDA to not approve GE salmon, so that this potentially risky product never reaches grocery store shelves. Food & Water Watch will continue working to support national legislation that would stop the approval of GE salmon by the FDA.”

“While we are disappointed that AB 88 failed today, we are encouraged by the level of support the bill received in a tough Committee,” according to a statement from the Center for Food Safety (CFS). “The bill’s failure in Committee came despite clear consumer demand for labeling of GE fish.”

As Huffman told TakePart, “If we had put this bill before the people of California, it would have passed overwhelmingly.”

Assemblymembers Harkey, Calderon, Hall, Nielson, Norby, Solorio, Wagner, Campos and Donnelly voted no on the bill, while Fuentes, Bradford, Chesbro, Gatto, Hill, Ammiano and Mitchell voted yes. Blumenfield, who voted for the bill last May, was out of the room during the vote.

The Frankenfish issue is not going to go away as long as AquaBounty’s salmon is on the table for FDA consideration and while other biotech corporations push for the approval of GE animals. The Obama administration, the same administration that is pushing for the privatization of ocean public trust resources through “catch shares” program and the construction of a peripheral canal that will destroy Central Valley salmon and California Delta fish populations, has also put the GE salmon approval process on the fast-track.

On December 19, a coalition of 11 food safety, environmental, consumer and fisheries organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) calling for a halt to its approval of a genetically engineered (GE) salmon after learning that the company’s – AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. – research site was contaminated with a new strain of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), the deadly fish flu that is devastating fish stocks around the world.

“This new information calls into question the reliability of AquaBounty’s data and the validity of its claims that their fish are safe for the environment” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The FDA must respond appropriately and conduct their own environmental impact statement that looks at a broad range of environmental risks from these genetically engineered salmon, including the risk of spreading diseases such as ISA and antibiotic use for other diseases.”

The coalition included the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Alliance for Natural Health USA, Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, PCC Natural Markets, Organic Consumers Association, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Mangrove Action Project.

Legislation advocating a ban on GE salmon, S. 230, and mandatory labeling, S. 229, is making its through the U.S. Senate.

Legislation advocating a ban on GE salmon, H.R. 521, and mandatory labeling, H.R. 520, is also proceeding through the U.S. House of Representatives.

For more information on GE fish, visit CFS’s campaign website, or Food and Water Watch‘s website.

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