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Frankenfish Gets Clear Labeling

— December 17, 2015

I never thought I’d approve of “backdoor bills,” those sneaky little bits of legislation that get tacked onto the end of larger, unrelated legislation. In fact, I really don’t approve of such underhanded tactics. However, our friends in DC just pulled one that at least helps people. A tiny addendum to the 2009 page federal spending bill would force the FDA to finalize and issue guidelines on labeling for genetically modified salmon. The frankenfish gets clear labeling!

Of course, this is all dependent upon the passage of the $1.1 trillion spending bill unveiled yesterday. Congress is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow.

The “backdoor bill” regarding labeling of genetically modified salmon prohibits the FDA from allowing sales of any food containing GMO salmon until final labeling guidelines are issued. Further, the bill requires the agency to spend $150,000 to develop these guidelines as well as to create a program to tell consumers if the salmon they’re buying is a GMO.

As I said, I’m not typically a fan of such legislation. If you want a bill put to a vote introduce the darn thing upfront! Why must it be hidden? For those of you with PoliSci backgrounds shaking your heads and thinking, “Wow, is he naïve!” you’re probably right. My no-nonsense attitude and refusal to play silly games are chief among the reasons I’ll never be elected to public office (and won’t even try to be, for that matter).

The fish is engineered to grow faster than natural salmon and is supposed to be as nutritious as non-GMO Atlantic salmon. The company and the FDA both say the frankenfish is fine and passes all the hurdles of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It will be “grown” in landlocked tanks with extra filtering capacity. The two facilities handling the “growth” are in Panama and Canada.

Be that as it may, some legislators were not pleased with the FDA’s approval of AquaBounty Technology’s AquAdvantage Salmon. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) condemned the FDA for granting its approval in the first place and has lent her support to the labeling provision.

She said, “The FDA’s genetically engineered salmon decision is bad for consumers and potentially bad for our environment. If the FDA doesn’t reverse its decision, it’s critical the agency develop clear and transparent labeling requirements for genetically engineered salmon.”

Of course, Big Agriculture had to step in with its GMO two cents. Pamela Bailey, the president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, issued a statement saying, “It is unfortunate that Congress has failed to take action this year to stop a patchwork of costly and misleading state labeling mandates, an issue of tremendous importance to consumers, farmers, food and beverage companies. In January, food manufacturers will face exponentially increasing costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate.”

Ms. Bailey refers to the hotly contested law passed earlier this year in Vermont that required strict labeling of GMO foods.

Let me get this straight:

The GMA is opposed to mandatory ingredient labeling. Why? They say it’s the cost. I have an issue with that excuse.

They don’t seem to care about labeling products “Gluten Free.” Granted, that’s not a mandatory requirement; rather, it was an agreement between manufacturers and celiac groups. However, those labels still made it onto packaging. Guess what else made it onto those packages in many cases?

Higher prices.

If anyone, from the GMA on down, expects to convince me that minor label changes are so cost prohibitive as to cause the entire industry pain, they had better be prepared to talk until their tongues fall off. I may buy their higher-priced gluten-free foods (out of necessity) but I am not buying their excuses.

“But if every state has its own laws…” goes the objection. Easy answer. Simply tell the truth on your labels. How hard is it to print, “This product is genetically modified” or “This product contains [insert ingredient], a genetically modified organism”?

It’s not hard. It’s not that much more expensive (if at all) than printing “New and Improved!” on a package. The real objection, I believe, is a desire to hide the truth.


The GMA and its allies are afraid to tell you the truth. If, as they claim, these GMO foods are the greatest thing since sliced gluten-free bread, why are they not shouting it from the rooftops? Why are they not proudly putting it on product labels? Why aren’t they spending advertising money touting the benefits of GMO foods?

My take? They’re afraid, either because there is a problem with GMO foods or they’re afraid that people won’t buy the products due to their bad reputation.

Either way, sneaking ingredients onto my plate without full disclosure is the best way of getting me to never buy your product again.


Advocates win labels for GMO ‘frankenfish’

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