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Consumer, environmental and labor groups ask Costco to reject GMO salmon

Retailer lagging behind competitors in making public commitment

SEATTLE, WA — Today Friends of the Earth, Community Alliance for Global Justice, Food and Water Watch, fishermen, members of UFCW Local 21 and concerned Costco customers rallied at the Seattle Costco and delivered 50,000 petition signatures demanding that Costco Wholesale (COST) publicly commit to not sell GMO salmon. Due to a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies, more than 60 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country, have made commitments to not sell this genetically modified fish. Although Costco is one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., and headquartered in the Northwest region home to Pacific wild salmon, it hasn’t yet made a similar public commitment.

Nearly two million people — including scientists, fishermen, business owners and consumers — have written to the FDA in opposition to the approval of genetically engineered salmon due to the risks GMO salmon pose to human health, environment and wild salmon. Despite this outcry, the FDA is still considering GMO salmon’s approval. If approved, this would be the first genetically engineered animal allowed by regulators to enter the U.S. food supply, and it will likely not be labeled.

In response to consumers asking Costco if it plans to sell GMO salmon if approved by FDA, the retailer’s customer service replied with the following via email: “Costco has not sold any GMO salmon and at this time we have no plans to do so in the future.” However, Costco has yet to share an official policy outside of its customer service responses.

“50,000 of Costco’s customers have asked it to not carry GMO salmon, even if approved by the FDA, and we want to confirm its dedication to sustainable seafood,” said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth.“Costco has told its customers it has no plans to sell GMO salmon — now the question is, will Costco publicly confirm this policy and join its competitors or will it be known as the ‘GMO Salmon store’?”

“Genetically engineered salmon has no place in the Pacific Northwest,” said Peter Knutson, owner of local Loki Fish Company. “The real work for responsible stewards and harvesters of wild salmon is to restore and protect habitat so that wild salmon populations can return in their natural abundance. Far from being a substitute, genetically engineered salmon are a scheme to enrich the few at the expense of our natural legacy.”

At least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish are currently under development, and the FDA’s decision on this genetically engineered salmon application will set a precedent for other genetically engineered fish and animals (including cows, chickens and pigs) to enter the global food market.

“When we can return to viewing the salmon, the trees, the animals and streams as relatives instead of resources then we will no longer tolerate the abuse of our mother and her children,” said Nahaan, who is Iñupiaq, Paiute, and Tlingit, and is of the Dakhl’aweidi clan from Klukwan, Alaska. “Too often the machine of profit has overtaken the actual means of what is sustainable and lasting for the earth.”

Three quarters of Americans surveyed in a New York Times poll said they would not eat genetically engineered fish, and 93 percent wanted GMO foods to be labeled. Polls show that 80 percent of Americans who regularly eat fish say sustainable practices are “important” or “very important” to them.

“Healthy food is important for everyone — for our members who work in grocery stores and the customers they serve every day,” said Todd Crosby, Secretary and Treasurer for Seattle’s UFCW 21 union. “A healthy food chain sustains our vital farmland and seas, supports vibrant communities and provides safety and respect for all workers who bring food to our plate. Genetically engineered salmon takes us in the wrong direction and Costco needs to commit to not selling it.”

The national debate about GMO labeling heated up last month, when Senator Boxer (D-Calif.) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act to make GMO food labeling mandatory across the country.

The supermarket rejection of genetically engineered salmon is part of a growing trend of food companies distancing themselves from GMO foods. Chipotle (NYSE: CMG) is removing and labeling GMOs and Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) will require GMO foods in its stores to be labeled by 2018. Cereal giant General Mills (NYSE: GIS) recently removed GMO ingredients from Cheerios and Post (NYSE: POST) quickly followed suit, removing GMOs from Grape Nuts. McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) and Gerber (OTN: NSRGY) have said they have no plans to buy the GMO apple that was recently approved by USDA.

More information on health and environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon and a full list of stores that have made commitments to not sell genetically engineered seafood and salmon, letters sent to companies by Friends of the Earth and allies, and a list of coalition partners are available at www.gefreeseafood.org.

Grocery stores, restaurants and chefs can add their name to the Pledge for GE-Free Seafood by visiting /gefreeseafood

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Expert contacts:
Dana Perls, Friends of the Earth, (925) 705-1074, dperls@foe.org
Danielle Friedman, Community Alliance for Global Justice, (206) 910-7877, Danielle@seattleglobaljustice.org
Julia DeGraw, Food & Water Watch, (503) 347-3599, jdegraw@fwwatch.org
Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org

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