AquaBounty criticizes Murkowski GE salmon rider

Genetically modified salmon supplier AquaBounty is criticizing “vague” new requirements for GM-salmon labeling that were included in the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill, which is expected to pass in the U.S. Senate this week.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which passed in May 2018, requires genetically modified foods to be labeled “bioengineered.” But U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) attached a rider to this year’s appropriations bill, which would require GM salmon approved prior to the standards being passed to include “genetically engineered” on its labeling

”Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the acceptable market name of any engineered animal approved prior to the effective date of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard shall include the words ‘genetically engineered’ prior to the existing acceptable market name,” Murkowski’s rider states.

While the new language “will finally allow us to commercialize our FDA-approved bioengineered salmon, we believe it is completely unnecessary,” AquaBounty said in a press release. “Senator Murkowski continues to single out a small, innovative, American company in a misguided attempt to protect a parochial special interest when, in reality, the rider most benefits Chilean and Norwegian companies that currently export more Atlantic salmon to the U.S. than any American company produces.”

Because AquaBounty’s salmon is “safe and identical to other farm-raised Atlantic salmon, this provision sets a dangerous precedent for all bioengineered foods because it was passed as an appropriations rider, yet has nothing to do with funding, and it imposes a mandate that targets a single company and product and calls into question the regulatory process and federal disclosure requirements,” AquaBounty added.

However, Murkowski told SeafoodSource in a statement that the rider is not intended to single out a specific company.

“I have been working for years to stop any introduction of GE salmon into U.S. markets until clear and effective labeling rules have been established. It is essential that people are fully informed about what they are purchasing and feeding their families,” she said. “The provision I helped secure in the recent Appropriations bill package for Fiscal Year 2020 was never intended to single out any particular company. This is about protecting American consumers by making sure they are informed that they are purchasing a genetically engineered salmon product. I remain committed to continuing my efforts to ensure that a clear, text-based label is in place for GE salmon products.”

AquaBounty said it supports transparent labeling and will work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture “on how to comply with this vague new language.”

Murkowski also attempted to “slip a rider into a farm spending bill that continues to block the sale of genetically modified salmon” earlier this fall, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote in an opinion piece.

The rider would have require a label comprehension study, which is typically reserved for pharmaceutical drugs and “can take years,” according to the editorial. In addition, the study would result in “the destruction of AquaBounty’s fish, as well as many jobs,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote.

AquaBounty is “hopeful that Congress and the [Trump] administration will allow the important innovations represented by our AquAdvantage Salmon to thrive consistent with the federal policies with which we’ve complied, and will not enact a rider ban that harms American jobs and innovation,” Dave Conley, spokesperson for AquaBounty, told SeafoodSource in September.

“Our FDA-approved bioengineered salmon provide a sustainable, nutritious, and tasty food source that benefits the environment as well as the consumer, and helps mitigate against overfishing,” Conley added. “Developing a robust domestic aquaculture industry based on sound science and innovative technologies is important for our nation’s future food security.”

That rider would have banned the sale of AquaBounty’s salmon in the U.S., AquaBounty CEO Sylvia Wulf told SeafoodSource.

However, the current appropriations bill rider does not include a ban on GM salmon.

“This means that, if passed into law, the rider would not ban the sale of our salmon here in the U.S. It, however, would mandate a disclosure for our bioengineered salmon that already is addressed by the Disclosure Standard and it targets only our company and product, and not any other bioengineered food on the market,” Wulf said.

“[While] Senator Murkowski maintains that the rider protects the Alaskan salmon industry, in reality, the rider most benefits overseas companies, which currently supply over 90 percent of the Atlantic salmon consumed here in the U.S. In addition, this use of the appropriations process to ban and then impose a labeling mandate upon a single FDA-approved bioengineered product sets very dangerous precedent, particularly when there is no safety issue and the disclosure already is addressed by a bi-partisan law that applies to all bioengineered foods,” she added.

AquaBounty said it supports transparent labeling and will work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture “on how to comply with this vague new language.”

Photo courtesy of Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock


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