New bill introduced on labeling GE salmon

Murkowski: consumers need to know what they are purchasing

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced new legislation mandating that genetically engineered salmon be so labeled.

The Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure a third-party independent scientific review of the Food and Drug Administration’s environmental assessment for all genetically engineered finfish, including salmon, for human consumption.

The legislation was introducing during the height of Alaska’s commercial and sport salmon fishing season. Preliminary harvest figures compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed that as of July 15 commercial fishing vessels had caught in excess of 62 million salmon, including more than 32 million in Bristol Bay and 13.5 million in Prince William Sound. The multi-million dollar commercial and sport fishing industries together provide thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Alaska, from processing to shipping and marketing.

Murkowski said the main purpose of the legislation is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when purchasing salmon.

“There’s a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing – and I want to make sure folks are aware of that,” Murkowski said. I will not accept that this ‘fake fish’ will be sold in stores without clear labeling,” she said. “Additionally, this bill would create a much needed review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA for the approval of these new species that are being created in labs. The potential for escapement from pens to occur from hatcheries and any facility where fish are grown would decrease the immense value of our fisheries.

“These ‘Frankenfish’ could wreak havoc upon wild stocks and pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of fishermen everywhere,” she said.

In December 2015, Murkowski inserted a provision in the federal omnibus legislation blocking the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market until the agency published labeling guidelines to inform consumers about the product.

In January 2016, in response to Murkowski’s efforts, the FDA put an import ban on GE salmon until those labeling guidelines were published.

The current legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Maria Cantwell, D-WA, and Jeff Merkley, D-OR.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.