When it comes to retail seafood standards, most grocers miss the mark, failing to stock their shelves with sustainable seafood that environmental and health organizations can get behind, prompting health and environmental organizations to advocate for laws to amp up regulations on seafood entering the U.S.
Greenpeace organized a report specifically designed to highlight the stores who do — and don’t — stock their freezers with environmentally-friendly seafood. Among the stores that do adhere to the highest ethical standards are Whole Foods, while grocers like Trader Joe’s and SuperValu.
The examination of retailers’ level of commitment to sustainable seafood was measured using the CATO score, which Greenpeace used to evaluate where retailers received their seafood from and the sustainability of that source.
With ecosystems at risk of reaching depletion rates and increasing concern over the threat of genetically modified seafood, health and environmental advocates are calling for regulations that would allow consumers to know the origin of their seafood, and how that seafood was raised.
“Aquaculture, or farming of fish and other seafood, holds great promise as a solution to the ever-increasing pressures on our ocean resources,” environmental advocacy organization Monterey Bay Aquarium states on its website.
The reason for its supermarket target is clear: Half of all seafood eaten in the U.S. is purchased through traditional grocers.
“It is clear that certain markets have become deeply invested in making better decisions and providing safer, more sustainable seafood options for their customers,” the Greenpeace report states. “At the same time, an opposing and dismal truth has become impossible to ignore: There are still a few seafood retailers out there that have yet to take any responsibility for the seafood they sell, or for the damage they are doing to our oceans.”
In the report, 18 of the 20 grocers requested to take part accepted the challenge. Two stores, Kroger and Bi-Lo, refused to do so.
Tracking the origin
As noted in the Greenpeace report, the first stop for seafood entering the U.S. is the border. While that might be enough to comfort retailers receiving the imported seafood, Greenpeace says it’s not, as just 2 percent of all imported product undergoes full inspection.
Greenpeace is pushing for the SAFE Seafood Act as a way to provide more transparency regarding the origins of seafood.
“The mysteries surrounding the seafood chain of custody have been tightly guarded by industry secrets for decades,” the report states. “Only recently have consumers started to request information as to the provenance and source of the seafood at their favorite grocery stores and restaurants.”
“This change is part of a growing awareness of the myriad of health and environmental issues associated with seafood, and since consumers have a right to know the impacts of their purchasing choices, more must be done to promote traceability and transparency in the seafood sector.”
That’s exactly what the SAFE Seafood Act is intended to do.
The bill, introduced in 2012 by then-Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, sought to regulate the seafood industry, subjecting all imports to inspection. In March, the bill was reintroduced as HR 2012. Inspections under the bill would seek to identify whether the seafood has been treated or fed food that had been treated with antibiotics not approved through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The legislation would break the level of mystery when it comes to seafood origin, requiring all importers to trace where — and how — the seafood was caught. It would also create a database tracking seafood exporters, which could then be cross-referenced with incoming seafood shipments, allowing a method to ensure that seafood entering the country isn’t doing so under false labeling. If a discrepancy is detected, the bill would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to refuse the shipment.
“The SAFE Seafood Act is a critical step toward both healthier oceans and a stronger and more prosperous seafood industry,” the report states. “The legislation will level the playing field for those seafood companies that already engage in honest and transparent business practices, and implement the blinding protocols necessary to begin reshaping the entire industry into a more sustainable operation.”
The act, which now has 23 cosponsors, has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee.
The “Blue Revolution” Keeping Frankenfish Alive
The movement toward seafood import regulation has centered around consumer demand. The farmed fishing industry is growing increasingly aware of public demand for transparency, and is lobbying the FDA to allow it to continue on its path of genetically altering fish.
Genetically modified salmon, referred to as “Frankenfish,” has been the latest concern for consumers. The blend of fish is created through the splicing of genes from a sea eel, an Atlantic salmon and a Chinook salmon, according to Greenpeace.
The company behind this movement is Aquabounty Technologies, described on its website as a “biotechnology company dedicated to the improvement of productivity in aquaculture.”
It refers to its mission as “The Blue Revolution,” one that seeks to combine biological sciences and molecular technology to produce greater yields, while also contributing to sustainable production, according to its website.
The company has already begun the process of seeking FDA approval. In 2009, it submitted its request and information related to its product to the FDA. In 2010, the FDA conducted its review and claim validation study, indicating the examination of the product was ongoing.
According to a fact sheet issued by AquaBounty Technologies, the FDA still has four parts of the investigation to go, yet the company is optimistic they’ll meet the mark and gain entry to the U.S. market.
For health and environmental consumers, this is a dangerous path to go down, particularly in the midst of a movement for more transparency related to the seafood industry.
“If this creature is approved by the FDA, nothing will prevent companies like Aquabounty from selling its eggs to any buyer, offshore or otherwise,” the Greenpeace report states. “These GMO salmon are not fully sterile and since offshore fish farms regularly experience escapes, the animals could potentially escape, breed, and outcompete wild salmon species.”
Throughout the FDA and Aquabounty Technologies approval process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not been consulted, which according to Greenpeace is required under the Endangered Species Act.
The introduction of the genetically modified salmon is also a concern for consumers attempting to monitor seafood for food allergies.