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Alaska lawmakers face down GMO salmon

Murkowski asks Alaskans to contact FDA during extended comments

Posted: February 23, 2013 - 9:00pm  |  Updated: February 24, 2013 - 1:08am
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About 130 people gather at Crescent Harbor in Sitka, Alaska, Saturday February 9, 2013, to demonstrate opposition to pending Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically modified salmon. Rally organizers encouraged people to send comments to the FDA before a February 25 deadline.(AP Photo/The Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)  JAMES POULSON
JAMES POULSON
About 130 people gather at Crescent Harbor in Sitka, Alaska, Saturday February 9, 2013, to demonstrate opposition to pending Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically modified salmon. Rally organizers encouraged people to send comments to the FDA before a February 25 deadline.(AP Photo/The Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

Genetically-modified salmon is nearing federal approval for human consumption and Alaska’s sate and federal lawmakers have taken up torches against what they refer to as “Frankenfish.”

In the novel Frankenstein; or, “The Modern Prometheus,” author Mary Shelley’s subjects played out the uneasy relationship between man and his science and technology, and examined questions about the morality of man as a creator.

This tension is on more and more minds in the Lower 48 and Alaska as AquaBounty's genetically modified AquAdvantage nears approval for the dinner plate.

Many Alaskans see this new organism as a threat to human health and to the state's vital wild salmon market. Proponents of the Pout-salmon hybrid say the farmed fish will provide protein faster to a world with a growing demand for food

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage Salmon is an Atlantic salmon, the species commonly raised in fish farms, spliced with the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of a Pacific Chinook ‘King’ salmon and the eel pout. These modifications push AquAdvantage Salmon to reach a larger market size of five to 12 pounds more rapidly than traditionally farmed Atlantic salmon. All AquAdvantage Salmon are female in the attempt to prevent reproduction, according to the FDA’s Draft Environmental Assessment. However, up to 5 percent could be able to reproduce. As an added measure of security, AquaBounty has said its genetically modified eye-eggs would be raised only by specific “physically-constrained fresh water culture facilities.” This removal of proximity from the ocean is expected to prevent the GMO from escaping into the wild environment.

The biotech firm AquaBounty of Maynard, Mass. has one more piece of red tape to cut before its AquAdvantage Salmon is approved for human consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released two draft reports in Dec. 2012 that recommend AquAdvantage approval. Public input on the Finding of no Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment was scheduled to end in February. The deadline was extended until April 26.

Murkowski said she encourages concerned Alaskans to weigh-in on the issue.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said concerned Alaskans should speak up. She addressed the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. “It is not only important about understanding what it is we are eating, it is also important to recognize what introduction of this fake fish could mean to the health of our own markets and to our wild fish stocks. It is important for the FDA to hear this.”

Murkowski said she welcomes the anti-GMO legislation advancing through the Alaska Legislature. House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution BLANK oppose the FDA’s preliminary findings and ask for further examination of GM salmon. Should AquAdvantage win approval, the resolution asks that the product be labeled “genetically modified.”

Committee Substitute for House Joint Resolution 5 passed Alaska’s House of Representatives without objection on Feb. 20. It is now in the Senate awaiting a hearing in its only referred committee, the Senate Resources Committee.

The senator said American families don’t want genetically modified salmon.

“I wouldn’t serve it to my family,” Murkowski said. “And I certainly don’t want to serve it if we don’t know what we are eating ... We are messing with a perfectly good fish.”

Reps. Geran Tarr D-Anchorage and Scott Kawasaki D-Fairbanks sponsored a resolution that proclaims the state’s objection to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the sale of genetically modified salmon in the U.S. FDA’s approval is the first for a genetically modified organism raised for the nation’s dinner plates.

If passed the resolution would not become law.

Tarr said the timing of the resolution coincides with the FDA’s public comment period. The resolution “will be considered public comment on behalf of all Alaskans,” Tarr said.

The House of Representatives passed HJR 5 with unanimous consent. Should the Senate do the same, Tarr said, the bodies would “speak in one unified voice against this application from AquaBounty.”

Tarr said FDA’s approval of AquAdvantage Salmon would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

“So that is a bold move,” Tarr said.

Tarr said she was concerned that the eel pout and Chinook hormones could have effects after consumption. She compared it to the use of bovine growth hormone.

Alaska has marketed its salmon wisely in the last two decades, Tarr said. It is known as a healthy product that comes from clean waters, she said. She said she wonders what would happen to its premium price when the price for AquAdvantage Salmon is expected be lower.

“We don’t want to undermine our wild salmon market,” Tarr said.

Tarr said the sponsors worked with Alaska’s Senate offices and with the fishing industry on crafting HJR 5. Alaska seafood products have huge potential, she said.

“It feels like the really wrong move when there is so much potential to market our wild Alaska seafood,” Tarr said.

For Tarr, GMO salmon is a personal issue, she said.

“I’m eager to work on this,” Tarr said. “And considering the timing, I’m putting a lot of my effort into it now. The success of the resolution comes from people recognizing that the time to do this is upon us.”

For more information about the FDA’s preliminary findings visit http://goo.gl/RIWfG.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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