Yurok Tribe

Yurok Tribe of California Passes Ordinance Banning Genetically Engineered Foods

Klamath, CA. — In early December, the Yurok Tribal Council unanimously voted to enact the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Organism (“GEO”) Ordinance, according to a press release from the tribe. The Tribal GEO Ordinance prohibits the propagation, raising, growing, spawning, incubating, or releasing genetically engineered organisms within the Tribe’s territory and declares the Yurok Reservation to be a GMO-free zone.

In their monthly newsletter the Yurok wrote, “The Tribe’s position is to support of the protection of Klamath River Wild Salmon and indigenous plants and berries. The Tribe has taken a firm stand against the use of Genetically Modified salmon for any purpose, as it is a threat to the health and wellbeing of our community. An ordinance about GEOs would further the Tribe’s interest in protecting Wild Salmon and against any genetic alteration to Klamath River Salmon.”

Violations of the ordinance will be enforced through the Yurok Tribal Court.

“It is the inherent sovereign right of the Yurok People to grow plants from natural traditional seeds and to sustainably harvest plants, salmon and other fish, animals, and other life-giving foods and medicines, in order to sustain our families and communities as we have successfully done since time immemorial; our Court will enforce any violations of these inherent, and now codified, rights,” Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti stated.

The Yurok People live on the Klamath River in northern California. The tribe has relied upon the salmon for generations and are dependent upon the health of the wild, native Klamath River salmon species and other traditional food resources which could be threatened by the introduction of genetically engineered species.

James Dunlap, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said his people “have the responsibility to care for our natural world, including the plants and animals we use for our foods and medicines. This Ordinance is a necessary step to protect our food sovereignty and to ensure the spiritual, cultural and physical health of the Yurok People.” Dunlap said the Yurok are taking a stand against GE food production systems because they are “inherently dependent on the overuse of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics, are not our best interest.”

In April 2013, the Yurok Tribe also passed a resolution opposing genetically engineered salmon. In November 2015, after years of controversy surrounding the safety of GE salmon, the FDA announced that the AquAdvantage salmon is as safe and nutritious to eat as the non-genetically engineered variety.

The FDA stated, “The FDA scientists rigorously evaluated extensive data submitted by the manufacturer, AquaBounty Technologies, and other peer-reviewed data, to assess whether AquAdvantage salmon met the criteria for approval established by law.”

The FDA says the data shows “that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth.”

Despite the FDA’s decision, AquaBounty has faced criticism and lawsuits for their products. After the decision, The Guardian reported that several environmental groups are suing the Canadian government in an attempt to end the production of GE salmon eggs. The lawsuit claims AquaBounty is operating a “huge live experiment” with the genes of the wild Atlantic salmon. The Canadian government previously gave AquaBounty permission to create GE salmon eggs in Canada and ship them to Panama to be grown before selling them on the market in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to the GE ban from the Yurok Tribe, Kroger and Safeway, the nation’s two largest grocery chains, announced they would not sell the genetically engineered salmon. The two chains joined Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s in their opposition to the GE salmon.