September 23, 2010

Reading between the lines: FDA indicates consumer preference not a reason for salmon labeling

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

FDA hosted a hearing on Tuesday, September 21 to discuss the hypothetical labeling of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. Just fifteen hours earlier the FDA finished hearing the debate on GE salmon approval, which gave the impression that FDA was moving faster on the issue than it actually is.  This compressed schedule caused frustration among experts, leading George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety to say “it is inappropriate to hold hearings on labeling before [GE salmon] are approved.”

In oral statements made before the FDA panel, Food and Water Watch (FWW) speaker Patty Lovera and the Alexis Baden-Mayer of Organic Consumers Association were not in favor of GE salmon, although if approved, Lovera recommended mandatory labeling of GE salmon. When pushed by the FDA panel on the material reasons for labeling, pro-labeling advocates often cited a lack of data on allergenicity of GE salmon or consumer preference. In a major break with other consumer advocacy groups, Gregory Jaffe from the Center for Science in the Public Interest indicated a preference for no GE labeling.

Salmon fillets in the grocery store (source:

Salmon fillets in the grocery store (source:

If GE salmon is approved, the FDA has indicated that labeling will be based only on material differences in GE salmon compared to non-GE salmon, and not based on consumer preferences for GE labeling. These views may not be consistent with surveys that show 70% of American consumers want GE food to be labeled, from data reported by Jaffe.

Industry groups, including Richard Carnevale of Animal Health Institute, stood in line to argue that there were no material reasons why GE salmon should be labeled. The CEO of AquaBounty, Richard Clothier gave a series of other arguments against mandatory labeling, including the “slippery slope” that may lead to labeling of all GE foods and if labeling “complicated the process it would be a pity.” It appears that all stakeholders, including the FDA, realize this is a complicated process, and are willing to work through the difficult decisions.

If GE salmon is approved, consumers will have the ultimate say in its success. Salmon is the 3rd most consumed seafood product in the US and its popularity and high market price will likely continue,whether or not consumers know what kind of salmon they are eating.  It remains to be seen if the aquaculture industry realizes that the rising interest in communicating where and how our food is raised may be a benefit as opposed to a liability.    Elliot Entis, the founder of AquaBounty, indicated he would be in favor of voluntary labeling as a type of product branding. Entis was in favor of calling their salmon “Panama Reds,” although one can only wonder if this is just a red herring.

– Dave Love


  1. This is Out of Species Genetic Modification – Lets call it what it is! At least Frankenstein had all human parts. Are you all loony? This is not selective breeding. This is untested, un-verified, and the collateral damage has not been investigated, thought through or determined not to harm. Get it – they have not shown it to do no harm. They can’t the math and the science says the opposite.The motivation is to make fish that grow faster, fatter and more profitable. This is not a plant-like corn (wait we messed that up already) this is a critical fish with 99% of the same genes as the native ones, that is raised in bodies of water connected to the oceans that a parasite or organism ( Like e coli – that lost its natural predators through tinkering by man) becomes stronger, or may die and will effect – lets just say harm, not kill millions of people, animals, birds, (should I continue?) This is because only a few scientists think they can play god, as smart as god, can think like a god – Stop playing god! Your not that good. Look at blackberries, IVY, all delivered here to Oregon with no biological control elements so they go viral. Reproduce like humans, and are uncontrollable – like some humans. If you don’t believe in god then stop playing with events that you can not accurately predict the outcome by a factor of 100 to 1 Billion. This will not measurably increase the food supply of Salmon, or prevent future starvation. This is not good for the industry – really. Why because the competition for a commodity crop – that is what this is, will either have to all sign up for the new stock or will not compete with the world producers that follow the same path. they will make less money – Look at BGHT now dairy farmers make less money then they were making before – less competition – bigger corporate farms and milk prices for the end customer went up. Have you noticed how small the ice cream containers have gotten? This is science being presented as facts and leaving out the majority of clear and present dangers, to not confuse the issue. This is not sustainable, this is about patents, and legal ownership of genetics. Ask Monsanto – it’s there number one profit center. Everyone should be taking the siding off the FDA buildings to shine some light to the dark halls where these deals are being made. Stop now – Label it, hell ban it, like DDT it was a dumb idea after you thought about it. Do we need to wait for the experiment to fail in our environment?

  2. Posted by James Coffman

    This is almost funny it’s so insane. I still remember the chemical farm advocate who told Congress that labeling GE foods was unreasonable because it would create anxiety for consumers that was best (for them at least) left alone. Their idiocy exceeds the surreal, and yet their co-conspirators in the USDA and FDA continue to allow them to march on. I’m sure that’s got nothing to do with their instinctual relationships.
    I guess the consumer’s only recourse is to simply stop buying salmon altogether… problem solved.

    What people want is transparency, and what the industrialized producers abhor is that very same thing, so there’s the rub, and eventually the blister will pop. The American auto manufacturers got schooled, the consumer wants are not to be denied, and the ones who respond appropriately will be the ones that ultimately succeed – with or without corrupted gov’t interventions. Monsanto, et al. can buy all of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branch influence that they want, but they still can’t force people to buy crap that they don’t want – no matter how well they try to disguise it.

    The problem with truth and knowledge is that once the genie’s let out of the bottle, it’s really, really hard to try and stuff it back in. I guess learning will be the new “seditious act” that’ll land ya on a HLS watch list.

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