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Senators, UFA react to GMO salmon news

KETCHIKAN (KDN) — A federal decision to allow the importation of genetically engineered salmon eggs to the United States for rearing has drawn sharp responses from Alaska’s U.S. senators and the United Fishermen of Alaska.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed an alert that had blocked the AquaBounty company from importing genetically engineered Atlantic salmon eggs to a grow-out facility in Indiana, according to the Associated Press.

The FDA had approved the GE salmon for human consumption in 2015. However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, that same year secured a provision in legislation that prevented the FDA from allowing genetically engineered salmon into the U.S. market until labeling guidelines that provide information to consumers were finalized.

That provision had prevented the Massachusetts-based AquaBounty from importing GE salmon eggs into the U.S., according to AP.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published some labeling guidelines, an action that the FDA cited in now allowing AquaBounty to proceed with importing the eggs.  

Murkowski, who as a longtime opponent has described the fast-growing, genetically engineered salmon as “frankenfish,” took issue Friday with the FDA’s decision.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the FDA’s short-sighted decision,” Murkowski said in a prepared statement. “It is wrong-headed and a bad idea, simple as that.”

She also targeted the USDA’s new labeling requirements as inadequate. The USDA guidelines don’t require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered salmon or other GE foods, according to Murkowski’s office. Instead, producers can use QR matrix barcodes of 1-800 numbers that consumers can use to get information about the product.

“I am not going to back down and will continue my fight to ensure that any salmon product that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled,” Murkowski said in the statement. “USDA’s new guidelines don’t require adequate mandatory labeling and don’t suffice as giving consumers clear information. Instead, they will only confuse people. I continue to have serious concerns about splicing DNA from two animals to produce a new marketable fish, essentially creating a new species. American consumers deserve to know what they're purchasing, and ultimately eating.”

Murkowski has introduced a “Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act” that would require any GE salmon products in the United States’ market are clearly labeled in the market name as “genetically engineered,” according to information from the senator’s office.

Murkowski’s views were echoed by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who on Facebook described the FDA decision to  “allow genetically modified ‘salmon’ for sale to everyday consumers without clear, discernable labeling (as) wrong and totally unjustified.

“American families deserve to know when they’re serving their families wild Alaskan salmon versus some genetically tampered fish,” Sullivan wrote. “While the FDA is weakening its labeling guidelines, we will not give up this battle to protect Alaska’s world-class and sustainable fisheries and the right of fish consumers to know what they’re putting on their dinner plates.”

Also weighing in on the issue was the United Fishermen of Alaska. The umbrella group that represents most of Alaska’s smaller commercial fishing organizations, cited the Alaska commercial fisheries’ legacy  providing wild salmon for more than a century — and that consumers associate the Alaska product with high quality.

“For the FDA to lift an import ban on ‘frankenfish’ without requiring clear labeling to show that these products are genetically engineered is a disservice to consumers and a blow to Alaska’s hardworking fishing communities,” stated the UFA announcement published Friday. “We strongly support the efforts of our Congressional delegation to ensure that GE salmon is clearly labeled; giving Americans the information they need to make informed decisions about the seafood they purchase to feed their families.”

According to the Associated Press, AquaBounty CEO Sylvia Wulf said the company anticipates receiving a final certification for its Indiana growing facility in upcoming weeks.

Once the certification is complete, AquaBounty could send the GE salmon eggs from its research and development facility in Canada, and could be harvested after about 18 months when they reach a weight of 10 pounds, according to Wulf.