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Local Chefs and Grocers Boycott Genetically Altered Fish

by D. Parvaz
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 20, 2002

Genetically modified foods have been a hot topic for the past few years, but with the possible introduction of genetically modified fish in the market -- the first animal protein to be genetically altered -- things might be heating up.

Some positions have been staked already.

"Listen to what the people are saying. We don't want them in our waters, we don't want them on our plates," said Lisa Ramirez, campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

At a news conference at Ray's Boathouse yesterday, Ramirez presented a list of grocers and restaurants that have pledged to avoid genetically modified fish. Many already make a practice of buying only wild fish, as opposed to commercially raised varieties.

Ray's Boathouse chef Charles Ramseyer said he served farm fish years ago when he worked in Europe but vowed to never use it at Ray's.

Ramseyer said he didn't like the flavor of farm fish and wants to make sure that wild fish are still around 40 years from now.

"We're serving only sustainable wild fish . . . and we urge others to do the same," he said.

The list of concerns about farm and genetically modified fish is long and includes health issues, environmental questions and considerations about what could happen to fish populations if genetically altered fish make their way into the ocean.

Britain has asked the United States to ban genetically modified fish, or failing that, limit breeding them to giant pens on land, away from oceans and wild fish.

There's also concern about the possibility that fish farms could devastate local economies and ways of life.

Aqua Bounty, a biotech company based in Massachusetts, has been working on completing an application for the approval of genetically modified fish with the Food and Drug Administration for the past eight years.

But if approved, will consumers buy it?

"If it was marked, no, I wouldn't buy it," QFC customer Brie Ball, 25, said yesterday.

"My first thought was concern for the fish population and for the environment. . . . It just seems playing with fish is crossing the line," said Ball, who said she wasn't nearly as uncomfortable with genetically modified fruits and vegetables.

Shoppers at Pike Place Market also panned the idea.

"Yeah, I just don't see why it would be necessary," said Brennan Younge, 36. "If I can't get fresh, wild fish, then I'll just eat something else."

One Pike Place fish vendor said he wasn't entirely against the genetically modified fish, but said he'd try cooking it at home first to check the quality.

Other merchants said they wouldn't go that far.

"What's next? Pigs that fly and cows that taste like cabernet?" said John Foss, board member of Capitol Hill's Madison Market, which will stick to wild fish.

Foss views genetically modified fish as "an attempt to patent life."

Joe McGonigle, spokesman for Aqua Bounty, which is breeding Atlantic salmon with Pacific salmon growth hormones, said the company is taking safety into consideration. He said he considers the Friends of the Earth campaign an exercise in prior restraint.

"There's certainly a concerted effort to get the FDA to not approve our application," said McGonigle. He said critics of genetically modified fish should wait until all studies have been completed.

"Withhold your judgment until you see the evidence. You can't make a decision until you see the facts in front of you."

He wasn't too concerned about the list of businesses that have vowed not to buy genetically altered fish.

"I think first let's look at who's on the list. . . . What they got was whole food markets and organic food stores," McGonigle said. "It's actually a pretty poor showing."

The following Washington businesses have pledged not to sell genetically modified fish:

Related Links:
The Center for Food Safety at

D. Parvaz
Local Chefs and Grocers Boycott Genetically Altered Fish
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 20, 2002

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