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Whole Foods retail chain won\'t sell biotech fish

Whole Foods retail chain won\ t sell biotech fish
WASHINGTON - Whole Foods Market Inc. , the world\'s No. 1 natural foods retailer, yesterday said it would not sell genetically engineered fish because they could inadvertently harm the environment and deplete native species.
The Austin, Texas, company was one of more than 200 small grocers, restaurants, and seafood distributors in 40 states that announced they would sell only biotech-free fish. Although biotech fish will not be commercially available until 2005 at the earliest, an application from Aqua Bounty Farms to sell transgenic salmon was being considered by the Food and Drug Administration. Environmental groups and consumer advocates have petitioned the FDA to temporarily ban the use of biotech fish, saying they could threaten the environment if they escape commercial farms and slip into nearby rivers. \"What we are really concerned about is if it has a disruptive affect on the environment or long-term human health issues,\" said Kate Lowery, spokeswoman for Whole Foods. \"This has not yet been thoroughly addressed.\" The retailers who won\'t stock bio-fish include restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, and New Orleans. \"If my patrons don\'t want genetically engineered fish, then I certainly don\'t want to serve it,\" said Todd Gray, owner of Equinox restaurant in Washington. Industry officials said gene-altered fish currently being developed would not endanger the environment. Massachusetts-based Aqua Bounty Farms said the transgenic salmon it hopes to market by 2005 would be sterile females that would not reproduce in the wild, thus, not endangering native species. The biotech salmon, which matures twice as fast, would also not compete with their traditional counterparts for food. Lowery said the company would re-evaluate its position on biotech fish if the FDA can assure its safety. \"There may be some positive benefits from (biotech fish),\" she said. \"We are really for establishing mandatory labeling for food with genetically modified ingredients because consumers have a right to choose what they put in their bodies.\" Last month, a National Academy of Sciences panel expressed concerns that U.S. government agencies would be unable to ensure biotech fish would not threaten the environment. The report found that farmed salmon had escaped into the wild and risked the ecological and genetic make up of native stocks. Story by Randy Fabi REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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