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California votes to label GM fish

California votes to label GM fish

Natural products advocates celebrate as the California Assembly Health Committee approves a bill to require the labeling of all genetically modified fish sold in the state.

All genetically modified fish sold in California must be labeled as such according to a bill approved by the California Assembly Health Committee last week.

The bill, AB 88, was authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's review of an application to approve The AquaAdvantage Salmon, created by Mass.-based AquaBounty Technologies. The salmon is genetically modified to "reach market size twice as fast as traditional salmon," according to the company.

"Knowing whether our salmon is genetically engineered is important for a host of reasons, including risks to our native salmon species, and allowing consumers to make dietary choices consistent with concerns they may have for the environment, food safety and religiously or ethically based dietary restrictions,” Huffman said in a release.

The FDA determined last fall that more research was necessary to assess the safety of genetically engineered animals intended for human consumption. Since then, AquaBounty Technologies' application to sell GE fish eggs to growing facilities has not progressed.    

Still, natural products advocates concerned with the human and environmental safety risks surrounding GE foods are celebrating California's move.  

"The FDA has indicated that it will not require these GE fish to be labeled once they are approved," said Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, a co-sponsor of the bill. "Until FDA completes an adequate environmental and human health review of genetically engineered salmon, it is up to individual states to protect consumers and their families.”

California-based natural products retailers, many who have programs in place to limit GE- products in their stores, are hopeful the decision will encourage more legislation on GE labeling.  

"This whole thing is insane. I think it's encouraging that this is happening at a state level but we all need to have our eyes open about what's going on with our food system," said Mo George-Payette, COO of Mother's Market and Kitchen in Costa Mesa, Calif. "Just saying the name genetically modified, that's not naturally occurring. We're a natural foods store." 

Jimbo Someck, president of the San Diego Calif.-based natural foods retail chain Jimbo's Naturally signed a petition to require the labeling of the fish.   

"Certainly as a retailer I'm ecstatic that it passed," he said. "I would like to believe that somewhere down the road there will be required labeling of all products that have GE ingredients in them. Until then, we recently came out with a policy that doesn't allow any new products with suspect GE ingredients unless they're certified by the Non-GMO Project."

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