US Senator Lisa Murkowski reintroduces GE salmon-labeling act following AquaBounty harvest

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is reintroducing an act that would require strict labeling guidelines for genetically engineered products, making sure that any consumer who finds GE products in a retailer or restaurant know what they’re purchasing.

The reintroduction of the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act, a law Murkowski has been advocating for since 2015, comes after genetically engineered salmon farmer AquaBounty Technologies announced the first commercial-scale harvest of its genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon. The company’s first round of purchase orders for five metric tons of their salmon was announced last month.

Murkowski has been battling AquaBounty since U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the company’s product or human consumption in November 2015.

“It is absolutely essential that consumers be fully informed about what they are buying and feeding their families – especially when it comes to purchasing a genetically engineered salmon product,” Murkoski said in a press release. “As an Alaskan who knows the tremendous benefits of eating healthy, wild Alaskan salmon, it’s imperative that Americans have the information to make that choice. When you splice DNA from another animal and combine it with farmed salmon, you are essentially creating a new species, and I have serious concerns with that.”

Her latest reintroduction of the GE Salmon Labeling Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).

“If we are going to allow this fake fish to be sold in stores, there must be clear labeling. We owe it to American consumers to ensure that any labeling of GE salmon is clear, effective, and understandable,” Murkowski said.

In late 2015, Murkowski introduced a rider into a federal appropriations bill that prohibited the distribution of farm-raised GE products in the U.S. and blocked the import of their eggs. That ban was later lifted by the FDA after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed rules that will that requires GE salmon to be labeled "bioengineered.” Those rules are set to go into effect on 1 January, 2022.

In a statement, Aquabounty CEO and President Sylvia Wulf called Murkowski’s efforts to pass the act misguided.

"Murkowski has introduced separate legislation through the Appropriations process that currently requires AquaBounty to label its salmon as genetically engineered – which is in addition to the BE disclosure. This is redundant and unnecessary and targets a small business specifically," Wulf said. "The senator once again is misguided in her efforts and continues to spread falsehoods.  We do agree on the need to protect the Alaskan salmon fishing industry and wild salmon.  Overfishing and climate change are taking their toll on the Alaskan fishing industry.  However, we are not 'fake' fish.  If she deems us fake, then so are corn, soy, wheat, watermelon, etcetera.  By continuing this attack and charade, the senator is undermining US innovation, small business and solutions to both domestic food supply chain security and climate change. If she was really concerned about protecting the Alaskan salmon fishing industry, we wouldn’t be importing 400,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon, making up roughly 97 percent of our consumption of salmon."

Wulf said her company's AquaAdvantage salmon have been deemed fully safe for consumption by both the U.S. and Canadian governments. 

"I can unequivocally state we are a source of safe, secure, and sustainable salmon. In fact, our salmon is engineered for today’s challenges.  Consumers should have no concern about consumption of our product and her continued attacks seek to undermine that confidence," Wulf said. "Unless she has a scientific degree we don’t know about, I place my confidence in the scientists at the FDA who have no reason to put a product on the market that isn’t safe for people, fish, or the environment."

Wulf said Murkowski was sewing doubts among U.S. consumers through her efforts.

"The specious claim on risk to the environment continues to create unnecessary consumer concern. AquaBounty cares deeply about both protecting our environment and our fish. Our facilities have six levels of physical containment and we farm sterile females in geographies that contain no wild salmon population. This enables us to aid in rural rejuvenation by bringing new jobs, technology, and use of our waste streams to bear on economically challenged areas," Wulf said. "The senator would better serve Alaska and Americans by supporting the use of well-regulated biotechnology to maintain our leadership in innovation and creating jobs."

In May, Wulf told SeafoodSource that the company put significant resources into making sure consumers and wholesale customers were well-informed on the process of raising AquAdvantage salmon.

Photo courtesy of AquaBounty


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