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August 31st, 2010

Consumer Rights Not Included

Occasionally, someone makes a PR gaffe so blatantly off-target that it would be downright funny—if it weren’t such an important consumer right-to- know issue.

AquaBounty Technologies—a name that conjures up images of fresh, wholesome seafood swimming straight to your plate—is the company behind AquaAdvantage genetically engineered (GE) salmon, coming soon to an FDA approval process near you. We call them FrankenFish or Arnold Schwarzensalmon. Included in their very own website is a statement that breaks one of the most important rules of sensible business practice: make the customer feel important.

Straight from their online press room: “MYTH: These fish should be labeled. Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.”

From the press room on AquaBounty's website: Your consumer rights on gentically engineered food are being ignored.

Are they suggesting that consumers’ don’t need to know whether the fish they’ve been eating is genetically engineered? Nope. They are flat out telling us: Consumer information not included. For context, they decided to be more specific: They assuage the concerns of industry by blithely observing, “FDA cannot legally obligate the producer [of a transgenic salmon] to label the product as anything other than Atlantic salmon.” (Update: In late August, the company removed this particular line from their website, presumably because of the fact that the FDA is now planning to hold hearings on this subject in just a few weeks.  If enough consumers like you voice their concern, FDA may change their tune on labeling of GE fish.  Stay tuned!)
Implication: What consumers don’t know won’t hurt them.

But who are they to decide?  A 2008 study by Consumer Reports found that 95% of consumers agree that food products made from genetically engineered animals should be labeled as such. Is the opinion of the consumer not of any value to AquaBounty? This is quite a change from their opinion on consumer labeling from back in 2001.

If AquaBounty has a product of which they are proud, why wouldn’t they feel comfortable sharing the nutritional information, for example? Perhaps, the GE salmon label could say something like, “This fish is an exact replica of a real fish—we just changed its genetic make-up. Rest assured it’s nutritional value is the same as a real fish.” Or, they could just be up-front about it by labeling it, “Genetically Engineered,” and let consumers decide for themselves if it is a product worth buying.

Our take? Choose wild salmon over open water farmed. And, if you don’t like the idea of eating GE salmon without knowing it, make your voice heard now. Thank you, AquaBounty, for telling us, loud and clear, that you truly don’t have consumers’ best interests in mind.

Unfortunately, this topic is far from over for us.  Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we discuss updates on the FDA process of approving (or rejecting, we hope) of genetically engineered salmon.

-Rich Bindell & Marie Logan

2 Comments on Consumer Rights Not Included

  1. Max Goldberg says:

    Thanks for this post and your support in this important manner.

    The bottom line is that AquaBounty knows that by openly disclosing that they are producing GM-fish, they risk alienating consumers.

    As consumers, we need to be very aware that this FrankenFish will be entering the marketplace very soon. I have no doubt that the FDA will approve it because the FDA gives corporations what they want, instead of giving consumers and US citizens what they want.

    Thanks for your support and I will be doing my part to spread the word about GM-fish on my organic food blog, livingmaxwell.com.

  2. Bonnie says:

    How can AquaAdvantage claim that it’s GMO product is Atlantic Salmon? The Atlantic Salmon is described as follows:
    Atlantic salmon life history is extremely complex owing to its use of both freshwater and marine habitats and long ocean migrations (Figure 41.2). Atlantic salmon spawnin freshwater during fall. Eggs remain in gravel substrates and hatch during winter, and fry emerge from the gravel in spring. Juvenile salmon, commonly called parr, remain in freshwater one to three years in New England rivers, depending on growth. When parr grow to sufficient size (>13cm) they develop into smolts and migrate to the ocean in spring. Tagging data for New England stocks indicate that US salmon migrate as far north as Greenland.

    Since Atlantic Salmon populations are wildlife doesn’t the manufacturing company of GMO Salmon need to submit an environmental impact report to USFWS and place it in the Federal Register for 90 day comment period? Since the Salmon is part of the native fisheries of this country, the FDA has no authority to say that GMO produced copy fish will have no affect on wild populations of fisheries. They are not qualified to make that statement, they inspect food and drugs not wildlife populations, of which the Atlantic Salmon is protected in Maine read below: Distribution, Biology and Management

    The Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, is a highly prized game and food fish native to New England rivers (Figure 41.1). The historic North American range of Atlantic salmon extended from the rivers of Ungava Bay, Canada, to rivers of Long Island Sound. As a consequence of industrial and agricultural development, most populations native to New England were extirpated. Remnant native populations of Atlantic salmon in the United States now persist only in Maine. Restoration and rehabilitation efforts, in the form of stocking and fish passage construction, are underway in the Connecticut, Pawcatuck, Merrimack, Saco, Kennebec, Penobscot, and eastern Maine rivers of New England.

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