Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reintroduced a bill Tuesday that would ban genetically engineered (GE) salmon, a fast-growing fish that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is likely to approve in the near future.
If the FDA gives its stamp of approval, and many expect the agency will, the GE salmon would be the first genetically engineered food animal to be approved for human consumption.
Developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, 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.
Sens. Begich and Murkowski–a bipartisan team from a salmon-rich state–are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the AquAdvantage off the market.
“Frankenfish threatens our wild stocks, their habitat, our food safety, and would bring economic harm to Alaska’s wild salmon fishermen,” said Begich Tuesday, adding that he believes the modified fish are “risky, unprecedented and unnecessary.”
Murkowski said it was “completely irresponsible” for the agency to consider the fish without first considering the impacts to Alaska’s wild salmon fisheries. “The FDA has not studied the environmental effects, let alone the economic impacts on the salmon and seafood markets that would result from approval,” she added.
Begich and Murkowski also introduced a bill that would require labeling of GE fish. According to Begich’s office, the bill to ban GE fish is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and the bill requiring labeling, if GE fish are approved, is co-sponsored by Murray and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, a group ardently opposed to GE food animals, lauded the senators for the legislation and accused officials of ignoring warnings from government scientists.
“When over 90 percent of the public does not want the FDA allowing GE meat into food supply and even experts at federal agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service state with regards to environmental concerns, ‘Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park,’ you have to wonder why the FDA continues moving toward approval. To approve GE salmon now would represent flagrant disregard for the concerns many people have raised about the health and safety of this product,” Hauter said in a statement.
AquaBounty insists the technology is safe. “We believe the economic and environmental benefits of our salmon will very effectively help to meet the demand for food from the growing world population,” said Ronald Stotish, president and CEO of the company, which is also developing advanced-hybrid trout and tilapia.
In September, 11 senators, mostly from the Pacific Northwest where wild salmon fishing is an important part of the economy, asked FDA to halt its consideration of the fish. In a letter, lawmakers blasted FDA’s approval process.
“One of the most serious concerns regarding AquaBounty’s application is the FDA has no adequate process to review a [genetically engineered] animal intended as a human food product,” the letter reads. “FDA is considering this [genetically engineered] fish through its process for reviewing a new drug to be used by animals, not for creation of a new animal, especially one intended for human consumption. Clearly, this is inappropriate.”
The cohort of senators asked that FDA instead shift the approval process to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to focus on potential human health consequences.