Convincing retailers not to sell GM salmon

Consumer and environmental activists, facing likely defeat in their bid to block government approval of the first genetically engineered salmon, are trying a different tack to keep the fish off America’s dinner plates: Getting retailers not to sell it.

And they’re making headway.

Some of the nation’s most recognizable chains — including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target — have agreed in recent months to steer clear of the fish. A spokeswoman for Safeway, the nation’s second-largest grocery chain, said the chain doesn’t have “any plans to carry GE salmon.” Activists are pressing Kroger, the country’s largest grocer, to make a similar commitment.

“The goal is to make sure there is not an available market for genetically engineered seafood,” said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an international network of environmental organizations helping to lead the effort to make the fish unwelcome. “People don’t want it, and markets are going to follow what people want.”

The Food and Drug Administration, which has been reviewing the genetically modified salmon for years, has strongly signaled it intends to approve the fish, making it the first genetically modified animal cleared for human consumption. The decision, which could come this fall, would be a milestone not only for the decades-long fish controversy but also for the heated debate over the development and marketing of other genetically modified foods.

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