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House Moves to Ban GE Salmon, Ag Debates Continue

The House of Representatives continued debate yesterday on an agriculture appropriations bill that affects key food safety programs. The bill still contains significant cuts to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, but has yet to be adopted by the lower chamber.

Lawmakers spent the better part of Tuesday and Wednesday debating a series of amendments affecting a wide variety of programs–from federal nutrition to conservation to food safety.

Late Wednesday, the House approved an amendment by Congressman Don Young (R-AK) that would bar the FDA from spending money to approve an application for controversial genetically-engineered (GE) salmon. If the agency were to approve the GE fish–which grow rapidly, reducing cost of production–it would be the first GE animal approved for human consumption.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled House by voice vote.

AquaBounty, the company that developed the salmon technology, insists the salmon pose no threat to human health and will be kept out of wild salmon populations; but consumer groups and much of the seafood industry remain staunchly opposed to the idea.

The modified fish, formally known as AquaAdvantage salmon, are essentially Atlantic salmon with an inserted growth gene from a Chinook salmon and an antifreeze gene from an ocean pout. They grow twice as fast as typical Atlantic salmon and require approximately 10 percent less feed to achieve the same weight.

Lawmakers from salmon states–who often call GE salmon “alien fish,” “frankenfish” or “monsters”– have been fighting for months to pass legislation to block FDA’s expected approval of the fish.

“Frankenfish threatens our wild stocks, their habitat, our food safety, and would bring economic harm to Alaska’s wild salmon fishermen,” said Senator Begich (D-AK) in February, when a similar measure was introduced in the upper chamber, adding that he believes the modified fish are “risky, unprecedented and unnecessary.”

AquaBounty argues that its Salmon would complement, not harm, existing wild fisheries.  

“The availability of AquAdvantage Salmon can help meet demand for a safe and sustainable food by providing a US-grown farmed Atlantic salmon, without stressing the valuable and finite Alaskan fisheries, preserving their markets,” the company has stated

However, members of Congress from several key salmon states, on both sides of the aisle, have now signed onto bills to block the salmon. The Senate has not yet voted on the matter.

The House is expected to continue debate on the agriculture appropriations and to vote on the spending bill this week.  

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