Last Monday, Yes on 522, the Washington state campaign to label genetically engineered foods released its first TV ads of the fall campaign season.
Vital Choice Founder/President Randy Hartnell appears about 10 seconds into the ad, as one of several Washington State residents to voice support for ballot initiative 522 (I-522).
Thousands of Washington farmers, fishers, parents, businesses and citizens have come together to support labeling of genetically engineered foods.
These television ads stress the point that I-522 is designed to give shoppers the right to know what’s in the food they are buying for their families
Vital Choice has taken a position in favor of labeling laws like the one embodied by I-522.
Randy Hartnell explained his stance in support of Washington State’s ballot initiative in the September, 2013 issue of Natural Awakenings magazine (see “Label it, Washington!”, below).
Label it, Washington!
The Anatomy & Future of Initiative 522
By Ann Dorn
Randy Hartnell is the founder and president of Vital Choice Seafood, a sustainable and wild-caught seafood home delivery service.
He says that messaging and commercials produced by opponents of the initiative are misleading at best when it comes to the cost of companies adapting to the initiative’s requirements.
“The claims they are making are not true,” Hartnell says. “It doesn’t cost us more to add a couple words to a label. We update labels all the time, and there are many countries that already require labeling GMO products, so it’s a false claim.”
Washington’s wheat and apple crops are not the only local crops that will be affected.
Without the passage of labeling laws, the Northwest wild salmon industry could be devastated, Vital Choice Seafood’s founder Hartnell says.
“A lot of consumers feel that if genetically modified salmon
is allowed to go on the market unlabeled, they will avoid salmon altogether,” Hartnell explains.
A fisherman by trade for over 20 years before starting Vital Choice, Hartnell experienced firsthand the decimation
of the Northwest salmon fishing industry when farmed salmon was introduced.
“What drove me and thousands of other fishing families out of business was consumers’ inability to differentiate between farmed and wild caught salmon,” Hartnell says, noting that when farmed salmon hit the market at lower prices, Northwest fishing families were left reeling.
“Almost overnight, we had no market,” Hartnell says. “Our prices collapsed and our industry was in dire straits.” Hartnell started Vital Choice Seafood in response to this collapse.
“Vital Choice grew out of our desire to educate consumers about the many important differences between wild and farmed salmon.”
But he sees another storm coming if GMO labeling is not enacted soon. The transgenic AquAdvantage salmon set to appear on the market soon grow 50 percent faster than wild salmon, thanks to an “anti-freeze” gene from the Ocean Pout being inserted into their genome.
“If you’re a salmon farmer, that’s great, because it means less feed and veterinary drugs to grow a pound of fish. If profit is your priority, that’s a good deal,” Hartnell says, comparing the new AquAdvantage salmon to the profit-centric industrial chicken, pork, and beef processing models.
The problem from an economic point of view is that without GMO labeling, consumers will have little idea whether they are purchasing a genetically engineered salmon at the grocery store, and the lower prices of the AquAdvantage salmon promise to attack the bottom line of the Northwest’s sustainable commercial fishing industry.
Since wild salmon cannot be owned by a corporation, the industry is still largely untouched by giant business conglomerates, at least when it comes to catching fish: the Northwest’s fishing families are actual families, many of whom have been making their living using low impact and sustainable methods in local waterways for generations.
A significant percentage of fishermen and women are members of the First Nations, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission has come out strongly against genetically engineered salmon and expressed concern in a recent statement over how genetically engineered salmon will impact the First Nations residents of the Northwest.
“My sense is that family fishing people are 100 percent against GMO salmon,” Hartnell says. “At the very least we should be able to tell the difference.”