Groups press Costco to reject ‘Frankenfish’

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Food safety and environmental organizations are pushing retail giant Costco to refuse to stock a brand of genetically engineered salmon awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Target, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and other companies have already committed to refrain from selling the salmon, dubbed “Frankenfish” by opponents of food made with genetically modifies organisms (GMOs).

The Center for Food Safety, along with the groups Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch and Consumers Union, are gathering signatures in support of a letter to Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, urging him to follow suit.

“As one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., Costco should have a strong policy on this important issue, I urge Costco to join these other leaders in making a commitment to not sell GE salmon,” the letter reads.

As of this week, at least 80,000 people had signed on to the effort, according to the Center for Food Safety.

The FDA is weighing a proposal from the biotechnology firm AquaBounty Technologies to approve for human consumption its Atlantic salmon eggs, which include a gene that enables them to grow to market size in half the time of a normal salmon. 

The agency has issued initial findings that the Boston firm’s fish are identical to traditional salmon, safe to eat and won’t cause environmental harm, leading to speculation that they would ultimately be approved.

In Congress, the plan has run into opposition among both Democrats and Republicans who warn of potential public health and environmental consequences of allowing the genetically altered fish onto the market.

“I don't believe that the FDA has adequately studied the environmental effects, the economic impacts, not only on the wild salmon themselves, but our seafood markets, and let alone the potential health impact on humans,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said during a budget hearing for the agency last week.

The Alaska Republican argued that, if approved, the salmon should be clearly labeled as having been genetically engineered.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency is poring over tens of thousands of comments submitted in response to the proposal.

“We're going through those comments, taking them very seriously, and you know, we will be moving forward in a deliberate, science-driven way reflecting all of the important inputs including obviously the perspective that you brought forward today and earlier as we consider this product application,” she told Murkowski. 

Costco officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.