September 19, 2002
Some Popular Restaurants, Grocers Nationwide Shun Biotech Seafood
by Paul Elias
SAN FRANCISCO — About 200 restaurants, grocers, and seafood distributors pledged Wednesday not to buy, serve, or sell fish created by biotechnology, joining some environmental groups and fishers in opposing genetically engineered seafood.
"Scientists and corporations are playing with genetics without knowing the consequences," said Eric Ripert, executive chef of New York restaurant Le Bernadin.
Among those signing the pledge were a dozen Alaskan seafood distributors and two dozen organic-food-oriented grocery stores and chains, including Whole Foods Market, which has more than 130 stores. Others included restaurants from Berkeley's Chez Panisse to Washington, D.C.'s Citronelle and celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller of Yountville's French Laundry and David Pasternack of New York's Esca.
The fish pledge was organized by three antibiotechnology groups: Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action, and Friends of the Earth.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering an application to market Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as salmon raised on fish farms. A decision isn't expected for more than two years because the company must conduct environmental safety tests.
An FDA-commissioned study issued last month concluded that engineered fish could pose significant environmental issues if they were released into the wild and bred with native species.
Executives with Aqua Bounty Farms of Waltham, Mass., which is developing the engineered salmon, said the attacks are unfair because environmental studies have not been completed. "What's disappointing is that their objective here is to avoid finding out the facts," said Aqua Bounty Vice President Joseph McGonigle. "This is tantamount to prior restraint."
Aqua Bounty has developed an Atlantic salmon spliced with genes from Chinook salmon and a fish known as the ocean pout. The engineered fish produce growth hormones year-round instead of just the summer months.
McGonigle said the company's lab-grown salmon all will be infertile females, eliminating the risk of escaped fish crossbreeding with native species.
Many environmental groups and West Coast fisheries that depend on wild salmon catches oppose biotechnology fish because of crossbreeding worries.