From both sides of the aisle, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are again taking aim at the genetically engineered salmon, which now may be closer than ever to federal approval.

The Alaska senators introduced two amendments they hope to add to the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill being considered on the floor this week.  One bill would ban the GE fish from entering interstate commerce, the other would prohibit FDA from spending federal resource on the salmon’s approval, essentially banning the fish altogether.

Developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, the engineered fish, formally known as AquAdvantage 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.

Last week, Talking Points Memo reported that FDA has cleared the salmon and the proposal is now at the White House Office of Management and Budget for consideration. If cleared by the feds, AquAdvantage salmon would be the first GE animal approved for human consumption.

Consumer, environmental and anti-biotech groups are fighting against the proposal, with strong backing from lawmakers from states with thriving fisheries.

In an effort to thwart FDA’s expected approval, Sen. Begich Monday introduced the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically

Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act to ban interstate

commerce of the fish and Sen. Murkowski filed an amendment to block FDA funding. Each senator co-sponsored the other’s measure.
“There is just too much at risk here. The public has expressed serious concerns about the introduction of Frankenfish into the nation’s food supply including potential threats to the environment and public health, and economic impacts on producers of sustainable wild salmon,” said Begich, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. “There are concerns about the transparency of the FDA’s review process and whether the consumer’s ‘right to know’ is being ignored.  Some, frankly, just aren’t comfortable with the idea the government thinks it can improve on nature by genetically altering Alaska wild salmon.”

Salmon fishing pumps about $1 billion into Alaska’s economy annually, according to a recent study.

“The FDA has not taken into account the full economic impacts that the approval of engineered fish will have – especially for a state with robust fisheries like Alaska,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Oceans Caucus and serves on the Appropriations Committee.
In addition to environmental and public health concerns, Begich and Murkowski say they fear the global fish market could be damaged by the introduction of GE fish.

“Salmon markets and prices were severely impacted with the growth of widespread salmon farming in the 1990s and Alaska fishermen struggled to recover by branding their salmon as wild,” she said in a release Monday. “Large scale production of GE salmon poses a new threat by creating product confusion among buyers and possible rejection in the marketplace, particularly if the fish are not labeled.”

In June, the House approved the Young-Woolsey amendment to bar FDA from using funds for the approval of GE salmon. Begich and Murkowski say they support similar language in the Senate, but they said it became clear “additional action” is needed which led to the so-called PEGASUS Act.

The PEGASUS Act would ban GE fish from interstate and foreign commerce and make it illegal “to

have custody, control, or possession of, with the intent to ship,

transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase genetically altered salmon

or other marine fish, or a product containing genetically altered salmon

or other marine fish, in interstate or foreign commerce.” Violations

would be enforced and subject to penalties under the Magnuson-Stevens

Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

An amendment to ban funding failed to clear the Senate agriculture committee last month.