‘GE’ salmon labeling bill requires third-party review

Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill on March 3 that would require all genetically engineered salmon to carry the words “genetically engineered” or “GE.” The bill’s language resulted from discussions between Murkowski and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, strengthening earlier FDA language that made the labeling voluntary rather than mandatory.

Beyond labeling requirements, the bill would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate a third party review of the previous FDA decision that declared AquAdvantage salmon fit for human consumption. The third party review would focus on ecological effects as well as human consumptive safety.

Rep. Don Young introduced a companion House bill.

Murkowski said in a press release that she still denies the scientific basis of the FDA’s approval of the AquAdvantage salmon — which grows at twice the rate of wild salmon, Alaska’s most valuable foreign export.

“We have had success in the fight against Frankenfish, but I won’t let up until it is mandatory to make clear to consumers whether they are purchasing Frankenfish or the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing,” said Murkowski in the release. 

“I still adamantly oppose the FDA’s approval of GE salmon, for the health of both consumers and fisheries. But at least with this legislation, Alaskans and consumers across the rest of the country won’t be deceived and will be aware of what it is they are seeing on store shelves,” she said.

Co-sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Murkowski’s bill could end the drawn-out squabble between Pacific Northwest lawmakers and the FDA.

Murkowski recently lifted a nomination hold on Dr. Richard Califf as FDA chief, having held his nomination until the FDA mandated labeling requirements.

At the time, Murkowski said she’d been working with the FDA to come up with a stronger labeling requirement.

Last year’s omnibus package ordered the FDA to ban the genetically engineered salmon from the U.S. market until the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines.

The FDA legal department, however, said the omnibus language wasn’t strong enough to fulfill Murkowski’s intent of mandatory labeling. The FDA, as a show of good faith, worked with Murkowski’s office to provide them the language that would force mandatory labeling, culminating in the March 3 bill.

The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon — manufactured by the Canadian company AquaBounty — for human consumption in 2015. Alaska politicians doubt the science and fear the economic consequences. Alaska fishermen’s wild-caught sockeye will have to compete with genetically altered fish, which splice salmon and ocean pout genes to grow at twice the rate of wild salmon.

DJ Summers is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

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