Why GE Labeling is Important for Washington’s Fishing Industry

Initiative 522 would ensure that genetically engineered (GE) fish are labeled in Washington. Labeling would allow shoppers to make an informed choice about whether or not to purchase GE fish.

Salmon: The first GE animal nearing approval for human consumption

  • GE salmon are created in a laboratory by combining genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel-like Ocean Pout and inserting them into the genome of Atlantic salmon.
  • The addition of anti-freeze DNA and growth hormones from these other species allows GE Atlantic salmon to grow year round and nearly twice as fast, according to the developers.
  • While not available yet, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is recommending approval of AquaBounty’s GE salmon for sale in U.S. markets. At least 35 other species of GE fish are currently under development.

The American public and markets are reacting negatively to GE salmon

  • Polling shows the majority of Americans say they will not eat GE seafood and 91 percent of Americans believe the FDA should not allow GE salmon into the marketplace.
  • Target, Whole Foods, PCC Natural Markets, Trader Joe’s and 55 other retailers representing 4,662 grocery stores across the country have said they will not sell GE salmon products.

The FDA is using a less rigorous approval process for GE salmon

  • The FDA recommended approval of GE salmon as a “new animal drug” ─ a standard much less rigorous than the approval process for foods or even food additives.
  • According to The Washington Post, the FDA, “is treating the application for AquAdvantage® salmon as if it were a new veterinary drug, which means that the deliberations are taking place behind closed doors and that AquaBounty can say much of the research and other supporting data it supplies to the agency is confidential.”
  • Washington’s U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and 30 other members of Congress signed onto a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg expressing concerns that “the FDA did not consider broad environmental and public health risks of commercial GE fish production in their assessment.”
  • The letter also expressed concerns that 5 percent of AquaBounty’s GE salmon eggs may not be sterile and could pose serious environmental and public health risks to both natural fish populations and humans if they escape into the natural fish population.
  • According to Food Safety News, in many of the tests submitted to the FDA, AquaBounty used sample sizes as low as six fish, much less than the minimum of 30 needed for the results to have statistical validity.
  • Additionally, AquaBounty admitted to excluding salmon that suffered lesions, skeletal deformities, or other conditions when submitting results of its studies to the FDA.

Washington’s top salmon trade partners already require GE labeling

  • The largest markets for U.S. fresh and frozen salmon are China and Japan, followed by Canada. The largest buyers of U.S. canned salmon are Canada and the United Kingdom.
  • China, Japan, and the United Kingdom all require labels on GE foods.


Accurate labeling of seafood is important to Washington’s fishing families, businesses, and shoppers

  • NOAA’s latest figures from 2011 show that more than 67,000 Washington jobs are supported by the seafood industry – the fourth highest in the nation.
  • In 1993, the Washington State Legislature passed a law requiring salmon to be labeled with the correct species, its country of origin, and whether it was farm-raised or wild caught.
  • In 2003, a Seattle law firm filed a national class action lawsuit alleging retailers were failing to comply with the FDA regulation requiring labeling of artificial colorants that turn the flesh of farm-raised salmon from gray to pink.


Concerns over production of GE salmon in Washington’s waters

  • Washington citizens worked with Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2002 to ban GE fish from marine net pens, but the state has no rules barring them from land-based tanks or fresh water and the current Commissioners could overturn previous rulings.
  • If GE salmon escape from marine feedlots, they can potentially mate with native species such as brown trout, according to scientists in Canada.
  • Allowing production of faster growing GE salmon could undercut wild salmon prices even further, harming Washington’s tribal and commercial fishing families.

Tribes Are Very Concerned About Potential Risks Of Genetically Modified Salmon