Even with its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeming imminent, genetically-engineered (GE) AquAdvantage salmon has been dealt a major blow. Several large national retailers made commitments to deny AquAdvantage, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, entrance into their stores.

Chains within both the natural and mainstream channels, including Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Target, have either signed on to a pledge or made clear in policy statements that they will not purchase the GE Atlantic salmon if approved. The official pledge is organized by environmental group Friends of the Earth. The group says businesses representing nearly 5,000 individual stores in total have either signed the pledge or made their stance public.

Reached for comment by the Washington Post, a spokesperson for the nation’s second-largest retailer, Safeway, said the chain has no intentions of selling AquaBounty, though they’ve not officially signed the pledge. The nation’s largest retailer, Kroger, is being pressured to adopt the same policy by activists.

At the end of 2012, FDA released a Draft Environmental Assessment of AquAdvantage, which stated the finding that it is “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon.” It also released a preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact. Since then, the public comment period has come and gone, and a final decision is expected soon.

According to Friends of the Earth, over 35 species of GE fish are in development, and approval in this case could make the road easier for those that follow, including GE forms of other animals. Many also fear cross-breeding with non-GE salmon should the GE salmon escape confinement. AquAdvantage is modified specifically to enhance its growth rate through the splicing in of two genes from separate species.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2013 (online 10/29/13)